AP NEWS

Problem: Lack of rural health care. Solution: Educating more doctors

May 26, 2019

For several years, rural hospitals have been closing in North Carolina and across the nation and “health care deserts” have been growing.

Nationally, about 90 rural hospitals have closed since 2010. Five have closed in North Carolina, including two near the Triad area, one in Blowing Rock and one in Belhaven, near the coast.

The reason for the closures is simple math -- too few people and too much cost. Tom Majure was the CEO of the Scotland Neck hospital until when it closed in 2017.

“We were only seeing three or four people every 24 hours,” he told WRAL in February. “However, we still had to staff it with a physician, we had to staff it with nurses, we had to staff the lab.”

The closures put people in danger. Residents of Scotland Neck, for example, now have to drive 23 miles to Tarboro to get to the closest emergency room. Contrast that to the Triangle: If you’re on Western Boulevard near North Carolina State University, you’re within five miles of three different emergency rooms.

In Collier County, Florida, which like Scotland Neck lost its small community hospital, the number of people dying in remote places like fields or parking lots grew by 143 percent between 2014 and 2017, according to The New York Times.

In June 2018, the paper reported, the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee reported to Congress that of 67 rural hospitals that had closed since 2013, about one-third were more than 20 miles from the next closest hospital.

Campbell University in Harnett County is contributing to a solution to the lack of rural health care. It’s School of Osteopathic Medicine focuses on training physicians who want to work in rural and underserved areas. It has established clinical campuses in Lumberton, Fayetteville, Goldsboro and Salsbury and sends students to those communities for training. It recently graduated its third class -- adding a total of 453 doctors who have an interest in serving rural communities.

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