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Why Sustaining Rural Hospitals Requires Data

February 28, 2024

Pennsylvania’s rural hospitals are working to transform care in their communities and access to data would support their success.

This morning, the Pennsylvania House Health Subcommittee on Health Facilities hosted a hearing to learn more about some of the challenges facing rural and independent hospitals.

Among the panelists were leaders from Punxsutawney Area Hospital and Fulton County Medical Center.

Hospital leaders discussed their commitment to their communities and the pressures that threaten their operations. Rural facilities typically care for patients who tend to be older, have considerable health needs, and rely on government programs to pay for their care.

Data can help coordinate patient care, improve quality, and guide effective operational decisions, but obtaining and synthesizing the right information is difficult and sometimes impossible, officials said.

“The health care system is complicated enough,” said Craig Behm, president and CEO for CRISP (Chesapeake Regional Information System for our Patients) and CRISP Shared Services. “To try and solve these problems in a silo, I don’t think is a very effective approach.”

Some key takeaways:

  • The power of data:  Access to data about patient volumes, services, discharges, claims, and social determinants of health would help hospitals coordinate care and facilitate more timely and adequate reimbursement.
  • Cost of care:  Medical assistance reimbursements—particularly for high-cost services such as obstetrics and emergency medicine—do not come close to covering the costs of maintaining these services. This is particularly challenging in areas that do not have significant daily patient volumes.
  • Malpractice concerns:  The return to venue shopping for medical malpractice claims has chilling effects for hospitals. Moving cases away from local communities to counties that have histories of higher payouts puts many hospitals at financial risk.
  • A pending transition:  Pennsylvania’s Rural Health Model has served an important role to stabilize care in rural communities, but it is winding down. The Shapiro administration, lawmakers, hospitals, insurers, and other stakeholders must work to ensure long-term sustainable funding for rural hospitals. 

HAP continues to advocate for policies and legislation that ensure rural hospitals remain anchors within their communities. The hearing is available to review online. For questions, contact Heather Tyler, vice president, state legislative advocacy.