The Impact of Rural Hospital Closures on Access to Healthcare and the Role of Nutrition in Improving Health

Ben H.

Ben H.

Jul 11, 20234 min read

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The Impact of Rural Hospital Closures on Access to Healthcare and the Role of Nutrition in Improving Health

Introduction:

In recent years, the closure of rural hospitals has become a pressing issue, leaving many communities without access to essential healthcare services. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated this problem, with additional closures in 2020 and the looming threat of more shutdowns in the future. However, addressing the healthcare crisis goes beyond just hospital closures. Recognizing the importance of nutrition in improving health, organizations like Elevance Health have hired food as medicine directors to implement programs and strategies aimed at addressing chronic conditions and reducing costs. In this article, we will explore the impact of rural hospital closures on access to healthcare and the role of nutrition in improving overall health.

The Impact of Rural Hospital Closures:

Between 2005 and 2019, more than 150 rural hospitals across the country closed their doors, leaving communities without vital healthcare services. These closures were primarily driven by financial losses in previous years, with 19 additional closures in 2020 – the highest number in a decade. Although the pandemic did not directly cause these closures, the special financial assistance provided to hospitals during the crisis temporarily slowed down the number of shutdowns. However, with the end of pandemic aid, experts predict a surge in closures in the coming years.

The Consequences of Limited Access to Healthcare:

The closure of rural hospitals has severe consequences for communities, as individuals are forced to travel long distances to access medical care. This lack of proximity to healthcare facilities disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, low-income individuals, and those with chronic conditions. Delayed access to medical treatment can lead to worsened health outcomes, increased mortality rates, and a decreased quality of life. Furthermore, the absence of local healthcare services often results in economic decline for rural areas, as healthcare jobs are lost, and local businesses suffer.

The Role of Nutrition in Improving Health:

Recognizing the need for a holistic approach to healthcare, organizations like Elevance Health have begun prioritizing nutrition as a means to address chronic conditions and reduce costs. By hiring food as medicine directors, they aim to develop programs and strategies that can be tailored to the specific needs of their members. These initiatives focus on providing access to nutrient-rich foods, educating individuals about the importance of a balanced diet, and incorporating personalized nutrition plans into healthcare practices. The goal is to empower individuals to take control of their health through dietary interventions.

Connecting the Dots: Addressing Healthcare Disparities through Nutrition:

While rural hospital closures and the emphasis on nutrition may seem like separate issues, they are interconnected in addressing healthcare disparities. By improving access to nutritious food and promoting healthy eating habits, individuals can better manage chronic conditions, reducing the need for frequent hospital visits. This, in turn, alleviates the strain on rural hospitals and helps mitigate the risk of closures. Additionally, ensuring access to healthcare services in rural areas can complement nutrition-focused initiatives by providing necessary medical support and monitoring for individuals with complex health needs.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Advocate for Policy Changes: Support policies aimed at preventing rural hospital closures and promoting the establishment of healthcare facilities in underserved areas. By raising awareness and engaging with policymakers, you can contribute to preserving access to healthcare for rural communities.
  • 2. Promote Community-Based Nutrition Programs: Encourage the development of community gardens, farmers' markets, and food cooperatives in rural areas. These initiatives can improve access to fresh, locally sourced produce and foster a sense of community while promoting healthy eating habits.
  • 3. Collaborate with Local Healthcare Providers and Nutritionists: Foster partnerships between healthcare providers and nutritionists to integrate nutrition-focused interventions into healthcare practices. By working together, they can develop personalized nutrition plans and ensure individuals receive comprehensive care that addresses both medical and dietary needs.

Conclusion:

The closure of rural hospitals presents a significant challenge to ensuring access to healthcare services for rural communities. However, by recognizing the crucial role of nutrition in improving health outcomes, organizations like Elevance Health are pioneering initiatives that address chronic conditions and reduce healthcare costs. By advocating for policy changes, promoting community-based nutrition programs, and fostering collaborations between healthcare providers and nutritionists, we can work towards a more comprehensive and sustainable approach to healthcare that prioritizes both medical treatment and dietary interventions.

Resource:

  1. "Rural_Hospitals_at_Risk_of_Closing.pdf", http://ruralhospitals.chqpr.org/downloads/Rural_Hospitals_at_Risk_of_Closing.pdf (Glasp)
  2. "Q&A: Elevance food as medicine director on nutrition's role in health", https://www.modernhealthcare.com/people/food-as-medicine-elevance-health-kofi-essel (Glasp)

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