Two Alabama hospitals are closing inpatient services, including a rural maternity ward
Two Alabama hospitals are closing inpatient services, including a rural maternity ward

Two hospitals in Alabama have announced they will cease inpatient care and convert them into rural emergency hospitals, closing one of the last maternity wards in rural southern Alabama.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Grove Hill Memorial Hospital in Clarke County announced that the maternity clinic would close on August 16 – in just over a month.

The closure comes nine months after Monroe County Hospital in the neighboring county closed its maternity ward.

The closure will leave a large portion of southern Alabama without access to obstetric care, requiring women to travel to Selma, Montgomery, Mobile or Bay Minette.

According to media reports, East Alabama Medical Center-Lanier in Chambers County also announced plans to convert into a rural emergency hospital.

This facility does not provide obstetric care, but will discontinue other inpatient services if the application is approved.

In an article published on the Valley Times website on Wednesday, deputy general manager Greg Nichols said the hospital is averaging six inpatients a day. Nichols told the newspaper he expects the “final transition” to happen within six months.

Both hospitals keep their emergency rooms and outpatient clinics open.

The Rural Emergency Hospital program was created to combat hospital closures in rural areas nationwide. It also receives additional funding from federal agencies. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, rural emergency hospitals receive $267,408.68 per month.

The program is available to rural hospitals with fewer than 50 beds. To qualify, hospitals must close inpatient services but keep the emergency department open. The average inpatient length of stay in rural emergency department hospitals cannot exceed 24 hours, and patients requiring inpatient care must be transferred to other hospitals.

Earlier this year, Bullock County Hospital in Union Springs announced plans to become the state’s first rural emergency hospital.

Across the country, rural delivery rooms are closing as hospitals struggle with declining populations and rising costs of running obstetric departments. Grove Hill Memorial Hospital is the fourth hospital in Alabama in less than a year to close its delivery rooms.

A report from the Alabama Hospital Association last year found that the pandemic caused major financial problems for many of the state’s medical centers. About half of the state’s hospitals were making losses, the report said.

Alabama is one of ten states that have not expanded Medicaid to low-income people.

Representatives of the Alabama Hospital Association have said that expanding Medicaid could improve the finances of rural hospitals and those serving low-income people.

According to Alabama Arise, about 300,000 people in Alabama fall into the coverage gap: They earn too much for Medicaid in Alabama, but not enough to qualify for subsidies to finance private health insurance on the federal exchange.

By Aurora