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I'm Mo Rocca and this is Sunday morning. Not to spoil your day, but a critical part of America's healthcare system is in critical condition. And far from the big cities with big name hospitals, countless small town residents are paying the price.
Lee Cowan will report our cover story. You might think, given the high price of healthcare, that hospitals, even ones way out in rural America, are doing just fine financially. I got 130 employees here that I'm gonna have to tell they have no future.
Well, think again. How much money do you have in the bank right now? About $7,000. Which gets you how far? The next 15 minutes.
Rural hospitals are shutting down at a rate of about one a month. Could yours be next? Later, on Sunday morning. Now serving in any number of American homes, recipes created by a woman who is a real trailblazer. Alina Cho has paid her a visit.
I love recipes like this that are so easy to remember. Before Reed Drummond became one of America's top chefs, she thought she might work for his top chefs. She thought she might work in TV news. You wanted to be Jane Pauley. Yes, I grew up with Jane Pauley on my mom's kitchen television. I'm Reed Drummond. Instead, you could say she found a better recipe for success.
Okay, these are ready to come off. The Pioneer Woman, ahead on Sunday morning. Steve Hartman has the story of an accidental encounter.
Jim Gaffigan admits he's addicted to the news. We remember the big dot com bust. And more, all coming up when our Sunday morning podcast continues. You might say that these days, the term critical condition doesn't just apply to the sickest of patients in a hospital. The words could also apply to a number of our small towns that suddenly have no hospital at all.
Our cover story is reported by Lee Cowan. There's no such thing as the middle of nowhere. After all, every place is someplace. Tonopah, Nevada, however, is about as isolated a place as you can find.
There's only one road in or out. Reno is more than 200 miles to the north. Las Vegas, 200 miles to the south, and not much in between. But to those who call it home, the scenic dot on the desert landscape once had everything they needed. Did you have any concerns about living in a place as remote as this?
No, not really. It had a store and a gas station, and I was fine. Emmy Marrow, that's her newborn daughter Kinsley on her chest, and that's her firstborn, two and a half year old Elena next to her, has lived here for four years. Do you want me to read this one?
Okay. They moved here when her husband got a great job offer from the sheriff's department. But six weeks before she found out she was pregnant with Elena, she also found out Tonopah's struggling hospital, its only hospital, was shutting its doors for good.
I'm frustrated, I'm mad, I cry, I'm upset about it because we would live less than a mile away from a hospital. It was all the more worrisome when shortly after she was born, Elena was diagnosed with Dravet syndrome, a catastrophic form of epilepsy. She's just like any other typical kid in our days, just like any other day except for when she has seizures. And how many does she have a day? She's at about 400 now. 400? Yeah. So is there anybody within a reasonable distance that can help?
No. When the seizures are bad enough, which is about every six weeks or so, she has to make a mad, desolate dash to the closest hospital, which is across the border in California, some 114 miles away. I'll never forget the first time she had to do it. It was in the middle of the night, so it was dark and I couldn't see her, so I did stop quite often to just check and make sure she was still breathing. That must have been terrifying. I was sobbing the whole way.
It is the worst feeling in the world. Elaine Mingus lives here too. She came here with her husband, Kurt, for a high-paying job at the nearby solar energy plant and they thought they'd retire here one day. We knew that there was a hospital here and there was a few physicians and we felt comfortable at the time. But after the hospital closed, everything changed. And they shut the doors and that was it. And they didn't give you any warning? There was rumors. But no one thought they were real? No, no. We thought, nah, that won't happen.
That doesn't happen. Look, we're out in the middle of nowhere. Kurt, who had diabetes, tried not to think about it until one night when he suddenly when he suddenly fell very ill. He woke up and I thought he was having a heart attack. He was gasping for air. He tried to get up, but he was just too sick. He was suffering a serious complication from diabetes.
That's a condition that's normally survivable with prompt medical attention. But in this case, prompt meant getting a helicopter. That particular night, the helicopter was 45 minutes out before they could get to the airport. And in that time, he went into cardiac arrest. Had the hospital here been open? Would that have saved your husband?
I would like to think so, yeah. It's a grim tale repeating itself all across the country. Since 2010, 99 rural hospitals like that one in Tonopah have closed. That's almost one a month. Basically, about half of rural hospitals are losing money every year. It's a large number. Mark Holmes has been studying the decline for more than a decade.
He's a professor of health policy and management at the University of North Carolina. And is there an end in sight? So every time that I've said, I think we're through the worst of it, we've been surprised.
And you always have to wonder, who's next? The plug pulled on yet another Tennessee hospital. The area's only hospital is shutting down. Several hospitals are closing.
It's devastating. A whole cross-section of America is now facing the very real risk they'll have no local hospital to turn to. Two hospitals closing for good.
The causes are varied. The population in some of those towns has dwindled to a size that can't support a hospital anymore. In others, the hospitals are either mismanaged or they end up as table scraps and mega-mergers. Medicaid expansion would have helped some stay open, Holmes says, but not all. And even so, reimbursement rates are often too low for hospitals to break even.
Whatever the cause, the impact on the community is almost always the same. The hospital closes, the emergency room dries up. All the other services that went with that, home health, pharmacy, hospice, EMS, they lead town as well. And now you're left with a medical desert. That's exactly the fate residents of Paul's Valley, Oklahoma were worried about. The town, about 60 miles south of Oklahoma City, has only one hospital, but the previous management company had run it into bankruptcy. I know, I know, and I know where you are.
I know where you are too, so let me... The day we visited, the man the city brought in to save it, Frank Avignon, was working the phones to find a generous donor to keep it open. I got 130 employees here that I'm going to have to tell they have no future. It's literally day by day for this hospital. It's minute by minute. How much money do you have in the bank right now? About seven thousand dollars. Which gets you how far? The next 15 minutes.
I mean, it's not enough to really make a difference. We all need the hospital because we've... Towns people rallied, especially those who had been treated here, like Suzanne Blake. How could we have a hospital like Suzanne Blake? How could we help? She and her husband pitched in half of their retirement savings.
Half. A gamble that to them made some good-natured sense. And we got tickled about how much we should give because he said, well, without a hospital we don't have to worry about as long a retirement. Employees were just as passionate. Linda Rutledge, who's worked in the hospital's cafeteria for nearly 20 years, baked over a thousand cookies.
A bake sale with a lot riding on it. What happens if the hospital closes? I'm gonna cry. That just can't happen. Show us a few more numbers waiting for services.
This is what it can look like when it does happen. We're glad you're here. We're gonna get everybody's services today.
We're gonna take very good care of you. This massive free health clinic popped up at a fairgrounds in Gray, Tennessee last year. It was set up by a non-profit called Remote Area Medical, originally founded to serve third world countries. But Chris Hall, the charity's COO, says a rural hospital closure back in 1992 forced the organization to address the medical needs of the underserved here at home too. Today alone there's seven states where the patients that have come to this event. Seven different states. So seven different states people have gotten their car driven 200 miles to get here today just to be able to get a service that they couldn't get in their local area or afford in their local area. Some who lined up here overnight, cold, did in fact have a hospital.
They just didn't have the insurance to access it. I'm Dr. DiMatteo. You are? I'm Leanna. But for others like Leanna Steele, this is the closest they have to an emergency room. Her local hospital, which she used to go to when she had debilitating migraines, also closed. So what do you do?
Mainly just sit and hope. Usually before a hospital closes entirely, administrators will try cutting back on non-emergency services like maternity wards. That's happened so often that more than half the rural communities in this country now no longer have labor and delivery units, leaving expectant mothers facing long drives at the worst of times.
But in Lake and Kansas, population 2200, they tried something different. The only hospital for miles decided to invest in obstetric care instead. The thinking being that babies can be a growth industry. They get patients in the door. And just as Kearney County Hospital's young CEO Ben Anderson had hoped, they stay and they bring the rest of the family too. Moms came here and had a great experience and they said, you know, you're going to be my baby's pediatrician and you're going to be my women's health physician and you're going to take care of my husband as an internist. We're all coming to you. Baby's moving around in there. Lots.
And that's just what happened. Dr. Drew Miller has a bulletin board outside his office with pictures of the future patients he's brought into this world. Almost 500 in the last eight years from all across the state. That's the most rewarding thing of what I get to do is take care of families of multiple generations. I could tell you stories of people that have delivered their babies and taking care of their grandma or the great grandma. That's what I love about what I get to do here. Oh, your nose looks angry. And another thing, there are no high-priced specialists employed here, not even an OB-GYN. This hospital is staffed entirely by physicians.
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