A majority of small general hospitals in Oklahoma are losing money, and health care officials warn some hospitals could close, be sold or cut services.
Federal financial reports for nearly every hospital in the state, obtained by Oklahoma Watch and analyzed and reported with the Tulsa World, show in each year from 2009 to 2012, between half and three-fourths of general hospitals with fewer than 100 beds lost money. Most are in small cities or rural areas. More than half posted losses in multiple years.
Larger hospitals fared better. In each year during the four-year period, between 7 percent and 19 percent of general hospitals with 100 beds or more lost money.
The financial strains affecting the state’s more than 70 small general hospitals has many administrators on edge about what happens next. One hospital, Pauls Valley General Hospital, declared bankruptcy earlier this year, although it remains open. Rural health experts and officials say more bankruptcies or even closings could occur.
The loss of a hospital in a small community can seriously impede access to health care, as well as hurt the local economy, health officials say.
Nationally, the picture isn’t much brighter. Small non-specialty hospitals are struggling with declining patients, a slow economy and dramatic changes in the health-care industry.
Rural hospitals in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and Arizona have closed their doors in recent months, said Brock Slabach, senior vice president of the National Rural Health Association.
“I wish I could say [the situation] is rosy, but it’s not,” Slabach said. “This is not something we’re crying wolf about. This is happening now.”
The financial data on Oklahoma hospitals was obtained from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services via a Freedom of Information Act request, and from the American Hospital Directory, which compiles cost report data.
The federal government requires most hospitals to file cost reports annually. Figures were collected for 120 Oklahoma hospitals from 2007 to 2012, although not all hospitals’ reports were filed each year. Nearly all reports were available for 2009 through 2012.