By Jordan Rau
A hospital closure can send tremors through a city or town, leaving residents fearful about how they will be cared for in emergencies and serious illnesses. A study released Monday offers some comfort, finding that when hospitals shut down, death rates and other markers of quality generally do not worsen.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health examined 195 hospital closures between 2003 and 2011, looking at health experiences in the year before and the year after the hospital went out of business.
Their paper, published in the journal Health Affairs, found that changes in death rates of people on Medicare — both those who had been in the hospital and among the broader populace — were no different than those for people in similar places where no hospital had closed.
While the researchers noted that some people might be inconvenienced by having to travel further for care, they found no significant changes in how often Medicare beneficiaries were admitted to hospitals, how long they stayed or how much their care cost.
The closed hospitals tended to be financially troubled, with revenues averaging 13 percent less than the cost of running the institutions.
“It’s possible that we didn’t see any change in outcomes because patients instead went to nearby hospitals that had better finances and may have had more resources to provide care,” said Dr. Karen Joynt, the lead researcher on the study.
She cautioned that the study looked at the average experience of a hospital closure and should not be interpreted to mean that every hospital loss is harmless. “I would be shocked if you couldn’t find an example where access is really threatened,” she said. Continue reading