The sole hospital in Wharton, Texas, just south of Houston, has closed. The Gulf Coast Medical Center is directing residents to either El Campo Memorial or OakBend Medical Center, which is more than a half-hour away.
Gulf Coast ended most of its services months ago but was still operating as a walk-in emergency center, according to a local newspaper. Wharton has a population of about 8,700.
A municipal emergency services official told the Victoria Advocate that he was informed in March that the hospital was no longer accepting patients who arrived by ambulance. Redirecting those patients to other facilities had cost taxpayers an extra $16,000, he said.
The hospital, which first opened its doors in 1961 and was once owned by Hospital Corporation of America, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Monday, according to federal filings.
Lower inpatient volume and falling reimbursement rates have caused many rural facilities to fail in recent years.
The National Rural Health Association has identified 283 more rural hospitals across the country that are in danger of going under—more than 10% of all such facilities. The group found that the financial conditions of the hospitals just hanging on are similar to facilities that already have closed. More than a third of rural hospitals operated at a deficit in 2013, according to the association.
Some experts however, say some rural facilities are not providing high-quality care and that rural communities would be better served by coordinating care with larger regional facilities and providing targeted outpatient and emergency care through innovative approaches.
And yet, a recent study found rural hospitals on average do better at avoiding the spread of hospital-acquired conditions and have scored higher in Medicare's value-based purchasing program than their urban counterparts.
Last year only 288, or 34% of rural hospitals participating in the hospital value-based purchasing program, faced financial penalties compared to 1,040 or 49% of urban hospitals, according to a new report released Wednesday.