The strong growth of rural hospital closures over the past decade has hurt many emergency medical service providers, worrying public experts who are following response times.
The average length of ambulance trips increased by 22% among municipal agencies, EMS and 10% among private providers between 2012 and 2018 in areas where a recent closure of the rural hospital was, according to a new study by u School of Public Health, University of Minnesota.
The actual number of trips made by these providers did not change during the study period. But the analysis found that rural EMS providers have decreased their number of non-emergency and inter-facility transfer trips by 31%. The study’s lead author Sayeh Nikpay, an associate professor in the division of health policy and management at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, said the decline in planned trips has made it more difficult for EMS providers to dispatch of ambulances in a manner that ensured that communities had adequate coverage.
“Bringing someone from the community to a hospital-based clinic is more predictable and has the benefit of bringing people in the community access to their primary care,” Nikpay said.
Nikpay said the weight of hospital closures is particularly acute among municipal EMS providers. While private companies have the option to stop providing ambulance services when it is no longer financially viable, municipal agencies are forced to adapt, which Nikpay said often leads to limited and personal resources that can affect quality. of these services.
“It’s hard for EMS agencies to retain people, recruit new people, and people who are there feel a lot of tension,” Nikpay said.
Researchers said the problems of rural public EMS agencies are a growing public health concern. It puts more wear on their equipment and increases the “downtime” spent traveling on ambulance bases. EMS providers also have less time to refuel and maintain vehicles.
Nikpay said the tension of rural EMS providers has been exacerbated only by the pandemic.
Last year, 19 rural hospitals were closed, according to figures from the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Research Services at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the highest number for a single year since the center began tracking. Overall, 180 rural hospitals have been closed since 2005, with more than three-quarters located since 2010.
Nikpay said the results of the study suggest that policy makers also need to look for ways to support EMS providers when addressing issues related to strengthening the country’s rural health system.
“We shouldn’t just think about hospitals when we talk about rural health, we should also think about EMS agencies,” Nikpay said.