CEO Message

Rural Health Care Access Is Statewide Concern

Health care access for more than 2 million Californians is shrinking.  

Across the state, those who live in rural communities have dwindling options for health care, as financial pressures continue to mount for rural hospitals. Since 2019, the percentage of rural hospitals operating in the red has grown from 40% to 50% — and nearly two-thirds of critical access hospitals (rural hospitals that serve communities located at least 35 miles from another medical facility) operate at a deficit. There are no more reserves to cover the shortfall.  

Today, your organizations received an alert asking you to contact your congressional representatives and urge their support of the Rural Health Care Facilities Revitalization Act (H.R. 5989). This legislation represents an important step toward shoring up rural hospital financing by allowing rural health care facilities to take advantage of community facility loans and loan guarantees under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Hospitals are struggling to stay afloat. For some, most recently Oak Valley Hospital District, that means tough decisions around layoffs and service line closures. For others, even those tough decisions can’t stave off the inevitable — two California hospitals (Corcoran District Hospital and Madera Community Hospital) have been forced to close in the past 10 years, a trend that is mirrored at the national level (more than 100 rural hospitals have closed nationally since 2013). When a rural hospital closes, those in poor health, seniors, and people experiencing poverty suffer the most (13% of people living in an area affected by a closure are below the poverty line, compared to 9% overall). For Medicare beneficiaries, a closure means the travel distance to access inpatient services increases by 20 miles; for specialized services, like treatment for substance use disorders, it increases by almost 40 miles.   

Those who live in California’s rural communities deserve the same access to health care as those in suburban and urban areas. Ignoring the risk to rural hospitals is akin to ignoring the welfare of nearly 2 million Californians, and this cannot stand.   

Our advocacy at the federal level is one piece of CHA’s broader advocacy for a new financial model for rural hospitals — one that acknowledges the unique challenges rural hospitals face and seeks to preserve care for millions of Californians.  

Life-saving, life-changing care should be accessible to all — not just those for whom health care is around the corner.