SALT LAKE CITY — As the Utah Department of Health prepares for its annual Rural Health Week, the agency is touting the relative vibrancy of rural hospitals statewide compared to their counterparts in the rest of the country.
A tidal wave of 82 rural hospitals in the United States have closed since 2010 "in part due to changes in policies which tend to reward hospitals that do a large volume of business," department spokeswoman Charla Haley wrote in a release.
None of those 82 facilities are in Utah, according to the Department of Health. However, a meticulous approach to rural health care remains important in Utah because "external factors could drastically change that situation," Haley wrote.
"The impact of new federal regulations and changes to Medicaid and Medicare could drastically impact the bottom lines of rural hospitals in Utah,” Matt McCullough, director of the Office of Primary Care and Rural Health, said in a statement.
The unique challenges faced by Utah's rural residents and health care providers are discussed annually during Rural Health Week, which this year runs from Nov. 12 through Nov. 18.
"Through the (appointed week), the governor calls for increased promotion and enhanced collaborative efforts to continue to improve the health of those who live, work, and play in rural Utah," Haley wrote.
She said rural Utah relies on its hospitals for not only good health care access, but for the economic drivers that the facilities with regard to jobs, local tax revenue and real estate values.
"We need to pause and recognize the outstanding work of the hospital administrators and the organizations that support them for this achievement," McCullough said.
The Department of Health lists 25 rural hospitals in Utah, including 11 that are small enough — with 25 beds or less — to be considered a "crucial access hospital." Profitably keeping up with other facilities while operating on a small scale is difficult, said Owen Quinonez, community health specialist for tor the Department of Health.
"We celebrate (that hospitals in Utah are not closing) because they do a lot of work to keep the doors open," Quinonez said. "They have to work really hard to make a little bit of profit."
The Department of Health is coordinating multiple Rural Health Week activities, including everything from a photo contest focusing on rural themes to a webinar examining how health providers can help reduce opioid overdoses.
The state will also be honoring Garfield Memorial Hospital in Panguitch, Castleview Hospital in Price, and Bear River Valley Hospital in Tremonton for having "ranked nationally for the quality of their parient care during the year," according to Haley.Comment on this story
The state helps rural facilities by administering federal money through various grant arrangements, including the Rural Hospital Flexibility Program and Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program. Doctors in remote areas can also apply for up to $15,000 per year from the Department of Health toward their student loans in what is called the Rural Physician Loan Repayment Program.
The idea behind the state's various ways of assisting, Quinonez said, is that "you should have access, no matter where you live, to a provider."