While the focus of the provision of healthcare services in rural communities is on improving health-related outcomes (and rightly so), these services also have another tangible positive impact on these communities: economic benefits. A new report from the National Center for Rural Health Works quantifies this impact.
According to this report, there is a significant economic benefit on rural communities from healthcare services and this impact has grown substantially over the years. For example, a rural hospital is typically one of the two largest employers in its community and critical access hospitals have, on average, 195 employees and $8.4 million in payroll. In addition, rural primary care physicians, rural general surgeons and rural pharmacies make large contributions to the rural economy. Overall, it is estimated that the health sector contributes approximately 14% of the total employment in rural America.
Rhonda Church, who worked for many years as a primary care physician in a rural community, and I wrote about these impacts in our book, Take as Directed:
Hospitals. They have been called our modern-day cathedrals. They are perhaps the most tangible part of our health-care system. Communities will rally around a hospital being threatened with closure or downsizing with passion and fervor. Large ones in urban centres may be harder to navigate than a cornfield maze. Small ones in rural communities may have less square footage than some pharmacies.
And, in speaking about rural community hospitals:
The communities in which these hospitals are located are typically very involved in fundraising and other hospital activities, and the hospital can be a source of pride or “bragging rights” for the community, even helping to attract potential employers or residents.
As noted in the new report, “quality rural health services in rural communities are needed to attract business and industry…and attract and/or retain retirees.” I think of my own parents who are retired and live about a mile away from the hospital in my hometown of 8000 residents.
Given the current challenges with our economy and the prominence of economic issues in the current election campaign, the message of the positive contributions of healthcare to rural communities is one which needs to be voiced clear and loud.