Over half of Mississippi’s rural hospitals risk closing

Nov 22, 2022, 11:03 AM | Updated: Nov 23, 2022, 3:58 am
FILE - The publicly owned Greenwood Leflore Hospital is pictured on Oct. 21, 2022, in Greenwood, Mi...

FILE - The publicly owned Greenwood Leflore Hospital is pictured on Oct. 21, 2022, in Greenwood, Miss. Over half of Mississippi's rural hospitals are at risk of closing immediately or in the near future, according to the state's health top health official. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Over half of Mississippi’s rural hospitals are at risk of closing immediately or in the near future, according to the state’s leading public health official.

Dr. Daniel Edney, the state health officer, spoke to state senators at a hearing Monday about the financial pressure on Mississippi hospitals. Edney said 54% of the state’s rural hospitals — 38 — could close. The potential closures threaten to exacerbate poor health outcomes in one of the nation’s poorest states.

“That is a situation that is intolerable from an economic standpoint — to lose 54% of our hospitals in the state — much less from an access to care perspective,” Edney said.

Rural hospitals were under economic strain before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the problems have worsened as costs to provide care have increased. Mississippi’s high number of low-income uninsured people means hospitals are on the hook for more uncompensated care. At the same time, labor costs weigh on hospitals as they struggle to pay competitive wages to retain staff.

“The costs on an income statement for a hospital have skyrocketed,” said Scott Christensen, chair of the Mississippi Hospital Association Board of Governors. “The liabilities on the balance sheets of hospitals around the state have reached some unsustainable levels given what we face.”

The crux of the problem facing Mississippi’s hospitals is that revenues have not kept pace with rising costs, Christensen said.

The strain is most acute in Mississippi’s Delta region, an agricultural flatland where poverty remains entrenched. Greenwood Leflore Hospital has been cutting costs by reducing services and shrinking its workforce for months. But the medical facility hasn’t been able to stave off the risk of imminent closure. Hospital leaders say they will be out of business before the end of the year without a cash infusion.

At Greenwood Leflore and other hospitals across the state, maternity care units have been on the chopping block. Mississippi already has the nation’s highest fetal mortality rate, highest infant mortality rate and highest pre-term birth rate, and is among the worst states for maternal mortality.

About 60% of births in Mississippi in 2020 were financed by Medicaid, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

A rising number of health care deserts are emerging in the Delta, but financial pressures are bearing down on hospitals in more prosperous areas of the state, as well, experts at the hearing said. But hospitals in poor communities often treat patients who don’t have insurance and can’t afford to pay for care out of pocket. An expansion of Medicaid coverage would reduce costs that result from uncompensated care.

Gov. Tate Reeves and other Republican leaders have killed proposals to expand Medicaid, which primarily covers low-income workers whose jobs don’t provide private health insurance. Opponents of expansion say they don’t want to encourage reliance on government help for people who don’t need it.

As a near-term solution, the Mississippi Hospital Association has suggested the state’s Division of Medicaid work with federal officials to raise the Medicaid reimbursement rate cap to a higher level. The move would lower the cost of providing care for people who are already covered under the state’s current Medicaid plan.

Democratic Sen. Hob Bryan, who convened the hearing, said the financial outlook for Mississippi’s hospitals is a “market failure” that warrants full-time attention.

“What we need is somebody, somewhere in state government, who is charged with figuring what we want health care to look like now and five and 10 years down the road,” Bryan said. “Unless I’m terribly confused, there is nobody in your state government that has that charge.”

___

This story has been corrected to show that the number of rural hospitals closing is 54% of all rural hospitals, not all hospitals.

___

Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Spain hosts EU-Med summit to discuss energy crisis

MADRID (AP) — The leaders of nine Mediterranean and Southern European countries planned to meet Friday in Spain, with the energy crisis triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine likely to top the agenda. The EU-Med9 meeting in the eastern port city of Alicante brings together the leaders of Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Greece, Malta, […]
2 hours ago
Medical workers in protective overalls walk past a line outside the fever clinic of a hospital in B...
Associated Press

China struggles with COVID infections after controls ease

BEIJING (AP) — A rash of COVID-19 cases in schools and businesses were reported by social media users Friday in areas across China after the ruling Communist Party loosened anti-virus rules as it tries to reverse a deepening economic slump. Official data showed a fall in new cases, but those no longer cover big parts […]
2 hours ago
FILE - Ukraine Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko walks outside of the International Monetary Fund (...
Associated Press

Helping Ukraine is ‘self-preservation,’ finance chief says

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Ukraine’s finance minister says crucial Western financial support is “not charity” but “self-preservation” in the fight to defend democracy as his country deals with growing costs to repair electrical and heating infrastructure wrecked by Russian attacks. Serhiy Marchenko also told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday from Kyiv that he […]
2 hours ago
People walk by monitors showing an exchange rate of the Japanese yen against the U.S. dollar at a s...
Associated Press

Asian shares advance on back of Wall Street gains

BANGKOK (AP) — Shares rose in Asia on Friday after an advance on Wall Street led by the latest rally in technology companies. Chinese benchmarks rose on reports the government is planning new measures to support the ailing property sector, which has dragged on growth over the past several years. The relaxation of some of […]
2 hours ago
A general view of pupils during lunch hour at Hillstone Primary School, in Birmingham, England, Wed...
Associated Press

UK cost-of-living woes stir push for more free school meals

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — As the school bell rings, dozens of children begin filing into the canteen at Hillstone Primary School. The day’s offering, a roast dinner, is a popular one, and many are eager to tuck into their plates of turkey slices, roasted potatoes, broccoli and gravy. For some children in this area of […]
2 hours ago
Cargo trucks move into a port in Busan, South Korea, Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. Thousands of South Korea...
Associated Press

South Korean truckers end 16-day strike over freight rates

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Thousands of South Korean truckers are returning to work after voting Friday to end their 16-day walkout that disrupted construction and other domestic industries. Thousands of truckers seeking financial protections as fuel prices rise went on strike Nov. 24. The government took aggressive steps to minimize interruptions such as by […]
2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
Over half of Mississippi’s rural hospitals risk closing