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While some rural hospitals close, Coryell Memorial responds to health crisis


Cove Leader-Press


Since January 2013, a total of 18 rural hospitals in Texas have closed, Dave Pearson, CEO of the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals (TORCH), announced in a press release. 

Pearson called the closure of so many rural hospitals a crisis, which leaves many rural communities in Texas without emergency and other care. A hospital in Trinity, Texas closed on August 1, after the hospital in Crockett, Texas also shut its doors, leaving those communities without immediate access to emergency and other hospital care.

TORCH, which represents the 163 rural hospitals across Texas, said four of the 18 closures were temporary and three facilities which closed were replaced with a freestanding emergency or urgent care center. But the care in those towns is now very limited, with 11 communities still have no emergency or hospital care.

“As many as a third of the remaining rural hospitals in Texas are operating on a shoestring and struggle every day to stay open and serve their patients,” said Pearson. “The real tragedy is many of these closures could have been avoided and are primarily the result of Medicare cuts by Congress in recent years, totaling more than $50 million a year for Texas rural hospitals, coupled with underpayments in the Texas Medicaid program to rural hospitals approaching $60 million a year.”

Besides leaving holes in the state’s safety-net of trauma and other care, the closures are having a devastating economic impact on Texas. 

David Byrom, CEO of Coryell Memorial Hospital in Gatesville, is the current chairman of the TORCH association board. 

“These closures are bad for the Texas economy. Rural hospitals cover 85 percent of the state’s geography and serve 15 percent of the population,” Byrom stated in a press release from TORCH. “They help keep healthy the workforce that supplies the state’s and much of the nation’s food, fuel, and fiber. 

“Each Texas rural hospital, on average, employs 173 people and has an annual payroll of $23 million. Statewide, that is more than 22,000 good paying jobs and expenditures of $3.7 billion year. The combined economic impact of the 163 Texas rural hospitals is more than $18 billion year.”

In the most recent regular session, the Texas Legislature did direct the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, who manages the Texas Medicaid program, to look into the situation. 

“The citizens of our rural communities who are fortunate enough to still have a rural hospital need to know this is happening around them and call their elected state and federal representatives and tell them to take action now to stem the tide of Texas’ rural hospital closures. The two closures in the last month, bringing the total to 18 in the last four-and-a-half years, could be the tip of the iceberg,” Byrom added. 

Carly Latham, marketing director for Coryell Memorial Health Systems, issued a response from CMHS to TORCH’s announcement.

“Coryell Memorial is a rural hospital as well as a community hospital. In November of 2016, the hospital held a groundbreaking ceremony for a renovation and expansion project to bring improvements or additions to almost every part of the healthcare system,” Latham said. “Coryell Memorial is a unique and diversified healthcare system, which sets us apart from other rural facilities. Raising awareness to the hospital closure crisis is crucial. We need local publications and media outlets to aid us in sharing this information. Most Americans living in a rural community, with a hospital nearby, have no idea that they may lose the life-sustaining facility. Those communities that do not have a hospital have very slim chances of being able to get even an emergency room under the current reimbursement and payment program methodologies from both state and federal government.”

The hospital’s central campus has a 25-bed licensed hospital, a 24-hour emergency room, Advanced Wound Care Center, DaVita Coryell Dialysis Center, Sleep Lab, Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, a surgery center, and an outpatient rehab center. CMHS also has a home health service, which supports discharged and rehabilitated patients at home. 

Latham said CMHS is also working to expand its specialty service like orthopedics, sports medicine, pulmonary rehabilitation, sleep center, general and vascular surgery, vein center, pain management, oncology, allergy and asthma, ear, nose and throat, urology, cardiology, spinal neurosurgery, and telepsychiatry.

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