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11th rural hospital forced to shut down, change services this year

(Monkey Business Images/Dreamstime/TNS)
August 21, 2023

A rural hospital in Martin County, North Carolina, recently announced its bankruptcy and subsequent closure, marking the 11th rural hospital this year to either close or change medical services.

According to Martin General Hospital’s website, “it is no secret” that the hospital has struggled with “financial challenges” due to a decreasing population and “utilization trends.” While the hospital claimed its goal was to “determine the right path to preserve local access to health care for the community,” the health care provider failed in its attempt to “revert the hospital back to Martin County.”

“We provided Martin County Commission with a proposal to revert the hospital back to Martin County, incorporated their requested clarifications and any requested changes and gave them an extension of time to consider our proposal at a called meeting on August 1,” the hospital stated. “The County chose not to respond to our proposal and the hospital is now forced to suspend operations today and to file for bankruptcy.”

According to Fox Business, while hospital closures have increased over the past decade, the announcement on Aug. 3 of the closure of Martin General Hospital left local residents in shock.

“Community totally was blindsided,” Alonzo Brown, a local resident who was raised in Williamston, a town located in Martin County, said. Brown noted that a significant portion of the county is made up of retirees, adding, “You don’t have a hospital to accommodate them, you don’t have an emergency room, don’t have a mortuary, you don’t! So, were you gonna do it? That’s why we’re outraged.” 

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Based on a press release from the Martin General Hospital’s marketing director, a county Feasibility Study revealed that roughly 80% of Martin County residents already receive health care from other providers. Since 2016, the hospital’s utilization decreased by 42%, resulting in a loss of $30 million.

Fox News reported that Heather Wilkerson, a spokesperson for Quorum Health, which is the organization that owns Martin General Hospital, explained that employees were given a 60-day notice of the hospital’s closure. “By Oct. 5, 136 full-time and 37 part-time hospital positions will be eliminated,” she said.

The National Rural Hospital Association has indicated that the current trend of rural hospital closures does not appear to be stopping anytime soon. The association has highlighted the economic impact rural hospitals have on local communities.

“These hospitals are oftentimes the largest employers in the communities, on average rural hospitals employ 320 professionals,” Alan Morgan, National Rural Hospital Association CEO, said.