Sometimes, we take for granted the rural hospital in our hometown will be there forever.

But today, as the cost of operating a small hospital continues to increase, the prognosis is dire.

The small community hospitals, including the six in the Crossroads, are important to small towns not only for providing health care to its residents, but also for providing jobs to the many people who are needed to staff the facility.

In the past decade, 119 rural hospitals across the country have closed. More have closed in Texas than in any other state.

Closer to home, since the 1980s, hospitals in Goliad, Yorktown and Weimar have closed. Another hospital, Gulf Coast Medical Center in Wharton County, closed but was bought by another hospital and reopened under a new name.

When hospitals close the communities are left to scramble to find medical care for their residents. In some cases medical clinics open, in other cases the emergency medical service in that town is forced to take seriously ill or injured patients to the nearest hospital, which in this area is anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour away.

Some hospitals have taken steps to stay operational such as partnering with large metropolitan hospitals. This allows the smaller hospitals to get needed supplies at a lower rate and opens up the hospital to more specialists who can come to the small town to treat patients.

Rural hospitals are an important part of small towns. It shows the community is viable, it can support the medical industry and it is a good place to raise a family.

Most people will agree being cared for by a person they know and trust and often times have known for years is a benefit to being treated at a rural hospital in their hometown. They say it makes an often serious or scary experience easier to go through.

Having a neighbor help set a broken arm is more comforting than entrusting the care to total strangers.

Rural hospitals also serve as an economic development factor when outside businesses are considering moving to or expanding to the rural areas. Available health care is an important benefit most businesses use to grade a community.

Rural hospitals continue to face serious financial crisis brought on by aging populations, serious illnesses, and uninsured or underinsured patients. Many hospitals are dependent on state and federal money to help make up the difference.

But that too is not the answer to saving rural hospitals. The bill allocating the federal assistance, known as the 1115 waiver, is set to expire in 2022.

Without that funding assistance, many small hospitals will be forced to make serious operating decisions, including whether to remain open or close.

While the funding is a temporary answer to a serious problem, it is important for federal and state lawmakers to continue to program.

It is also important for health care workers and the communities they serve to continue to work to find ways to keep rural hospitals open and providing care to residents of the nation’s small towns.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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