Sponsored: Why The Rural Hospital Coalition Is Important

More than half the hospitals in the United States are rural facilities. But, singularly, the institutions lack the voice of their larger counterparts in metropolitan areas.

Enter the Rural Hospital Coalition.

A client of The Picard Group and an essential component in the quality of life of many living in rural Louisiana, the Rural Hospital Coalition, which represents facilities with 60 or fewer beds, is of “vital importance to Louisiana health care,” said Rodney Alexander, The Picard Group’s senior director of federal affairs and former U.S. Representative.

“We have so many underserved areas and there seems to be a need for hospitals in rural areas to grow,” Alexander said. "Yet, it’s become even more difficult for them to maintain stability."

Alexander points to the high cost of health care and the cuts necessitated by state and local governments looking to save money as detrimental to the 50 rural hospitals currently operating in Louisiana. “These hospitals are on pins and needles trying to survive,” Alexander said.

He works to represent their interests in Washington and explains some of their greatest challenges — namely proper staffing and the increased cost of new procedures. Living in the country may be a welcome choice for many, but attracting enough well trained medical professionals is a challenge.

“Yet, for many people, driving 50 miles or more to a facility that’s larger can be a matter of life or death. We’re always looking for ways we can improve the quality of care that rural hospitals provide and the things the federal and state governments can do to make sure rural hospitals survive,” Alexander said.

Two years ago, Gov. John Bel Edwards took office and expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which was a plus for rural areas. “In those areas, you have so many Medicaid eligible people — it benefits them to have a hospital close by and the expanded Medicaid role has also been a positive,” Alexander said.

Alexander, who has a heart for rural Louisiana, said he’s been working with the Department of Health and others at the national level to establish access for veterans’ care for those living in rural areas.

“We are working to expand veterans’ care more and more by giving veterans a voucher for their health care," he added. "If you live in underserved areas or too far from another hospital, here’s a voucher. That only makes sense.”

Many veterans currently travel long and inconvenient distances to the nearest Veterans’ Administration facility, which greatly impacts their overall care and health. “It’s foolish for a veteran to drive past a health care facility they like but can’t go to,” he said.

One of the most solidifying pieces to keeping rural facilities on the frontlines has been Louisiana’s Rural Hospital Preservation Act, which assures smaller facilities are not pushed to the back burner across the state.

“Other states don’t have that act. Across the nation, more than 80 hospitals have closed and hundreds more are at the risk of closure. Many are walking a fine line and just can’t sustain the increased cost of health care without making adjustments. Sometimes they are pushed past the point of survival,” Alexander said.

On the other side of the rural health care equation is the bottom line that people, in rural areas included, live longer these days — and there are more of us. Each new technology that preserves life or improves quality comes with a cost. A specific example is the millions of dollars invested in knee replacements annually — and knee replacements are something no one envisioned when Medicare was originally put in place.

“We want new health care devices that add longevity to life, but it all gets more expensive,” Alexander said.

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