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Small Wisconsin Hospitals Face Statewide Rural Health Crisis

Small Wisconsin Hospitals Face Statewide Rural Health Crisis

When Ryan Neville was brought on as CEO of Memorial Medical Center, the sole hospital serving Clark County, it could not get a bank loan.

At that time, in 2013, rural safety net hospitals — located more than 35 miles from another hospital — had a national average of 69 days of cash reserves. But the Neillsville hospital lost $3 million that year and had enough reserves to pay expenses for just four days.

The hospital needed new equipment to boost revenue. With few other options, it took the unusual step of seeking help from city hall, which helped the hospital get a $1.5 million loan.

“Without that loan that the city helped us get or backed us on, we potentially could’ve closed or been significantly downsized,” Neville said.

The hospital in central Wisconsin provides 24-hour trauma care in a county of 34,000 people spanning 1,200 square miles. Had it closed, residents of the farming community would have had to drive 40 minutes to Marshfield or an hour to Eau Claire, turning some medical emergencies into catastrophes.

At that time, in 2013, rural safety net hospitals — located more than 35 miles from another hospital — had a national average of 69 days of cash reserves. But the Neillsville hospital lost $3 million that year and had enough reserves to pay expenses for just four days.

The hospital needed new equipment to boost revenue. With few other options, it took the unusual step of seeking help from city hall, which helped the hospital get a $1.5 million loan.

Nationwide, 155 rural hospitals have closed in the past 15 years, according to the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program. Nearly half of the remaining rural hospitals lose more money than they make, said Michael Topchik, national leader of the Chartis Center for Rural Health, a Chicago-based consulting firm.

Wisconsin has fared better than many states: Just one rural hospital has closed in the past 10 years. Others have cut services or merged with larger systems to stay alive.

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