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J Rural Health. 1999 Spring;15(2):202-9.

Community perceptions of the effects of rural hospital closure on access to care.

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  • 1Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 27599-7590, USA.


The purpose of this case study was to ascertain the perceptions of health professionals who were located in six rural communities where hospital closure occurred, regarding the impact of closure on community residents. These health professionals were asked to respond to questions about effects of hospital closures on the availability of medical services such as emergency care, physician services, hospital services and nursing home care. To control for trends in medical services utilization that were unrelated to hospital closure, the study design included comparison areas where similar hospitals remained open. A standardized questionnaire was administered to three health professionals in each of the areas that experienced a hospital closure and also in the matched comparison areas. Interviews of the health professionals in closure areas provide evidence suggestive of some perceived negative effects of hospital closure on these communities. These negative effects include difficulty recruiting and retaining physicians, concern of residents about the loss of their local emergency room, and increased travel times to receive hospital services. The perceived effects of closure appeared to be mediated by the distance required for travel to the nearest hospital. Respondents perceived increased travel times to most significantly affect vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, the disabled and the economically disadvantaged. Respondents in the majority of comparison areas also reported access barriers for vulnerable populations. These barriers primarily center on problems of obtaining transportation and enduring the rigors of travel. Improvements in the availability of transportation to medical care may offer some stabilization to communities where hospitals closed; however, it also is the case that transportation improvements are needed to increase access to care in rural communities where hospitals remained open.

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