Public Media for Central Pennsylvania
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pennsylvania healthcare providers say rural hospitals at risk of closing

Front view of Bradford Regional Medical Center in the city of Bradford in McKean County, Pennsylvania
Emily Reddy
Over 150 rural hospitals have closed since 2010 and more than 600 additional rural hospitals are in danger, according to the Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber.

The rising cost of providing health care in rural Pennsylvania is putting some hospitals at risk of closing, according to healthcare providers who spoke during a meeting the Center for Rural Pennsylvania held Thursday morning at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.

“Some hospitals stressed that they may at any time be days away from closing,” said Lisa Davis, the director of the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health. Davis said one of the biggest challenges rural hospitals are facing is a lack of staff. This nursing shortage has hit several services, including maternity care.

“Many pregnant persons in rural areas need to drive almost 40 minutes to reach a hospital that can assist them during birth, which exceeds the recommended 30-minute travel time once a person begins labor,” Davis said.

Recommendations at the hearing included offering more help covering students’ costs and improving medical education in rural areas by offering clinical settings, since many students tend to work in the same place they studied.

Jill Owens, president of the Upper Allegheny Health System, which includes Bradford Regional Medical Center, said they have relationships with all of the schools in the region to train nurses, but that there are fewer patients in beds because of a shift to outpatient services. Owens said fewer patients makes it more difficult to train students.

Bradford Regional Medical Center, along with other rural hospitals across the state, has had to hire more agency workers to fill in staffing gaps. Hospitals normally have to pay higher rates for agency workers.

“We were paying over $200 an hour for RNs. And unfortunately, those RNs weren't seeing that money in their pockets, the agency was pocketing most of it,” Owens said.

Owens said hospitals consolidating and doing services as a regional system can help fill in the gap.

Kate Slatt, a member of the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, said the state should create a workforce reform advisory council to address the healthcare workforce crisis.

Slatt also said Pennsylvania needs to implement a professional licensure compact which makes it easier to bring in physician assistants from other states. Former Governor Tom Wolf signed a law on July 1, 2021, to start the process of adding Pennsylvania to the Nurse Licensure Compact. According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, that is underway.

Sydney Roach is a reporter and host for WPSU with a passion for radio and community stories.