Americans Lose Access to Health Care as Rural Hospitals Close
The impossible cost of health care in Appalachia: $40,000 for a single ambulance ride. We take a look at the cost of health care consolidation in rural America.
When Heather Edwards’ contractions began three months early, in March, she worried about the long drive to the hospital from her home nestled in the Appalachian Mountains in Jonesville, Va., a town of fewer than 1,000 people. Edwards, 32, was carrying quadruplets and hers was considered a high-risk pregnancy. The nearest hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) was an hour away in Kingsport, Tenn., Holston Valley Medical Center.
“A decade ago she could have found an emergency room, if not a NICU, 10 minutes up the road at Lee County Regional Medical Center in Pennington Gap, Va., but the hospital closed in 2013 due to low community use, a lack of local physicians and Virginia’s refusal to expand Medicaid, which left the state’s rural hospitals to provide uncompensated care to uninsured patients. In 2012, the Lee County hospital was nearly $2.5 million in the red.