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Study says death rates worse at rural hospitals

Published: Monday, April 8, 2013 11:16 a.m. CDT

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A new study says the death rates in small rural hospitals are worse than at most hospitals.

The Lincoln Journal Star reported the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association notes that the death rate in remote hospitals got worse between 2002 and 2010. The death rate at other hospitals improved over that same time period.

Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Texas and Kansas are the states with the most critical-access hospitals. Iowa has 82 and Nebraska has 65.

Medicare treats these small, isolated hospitals differently. It pays them more than it pays most hospitals and doesn’t impose the same requirements for efficiency. And the small critical-access hospitals don’t have to report how their patients fare.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Karen Joynt, said it may be harder for rural hospitals to afford the latest technology and specialists that are helping other hospitals.

“This carved-out group of hospitals seems to be falling further and further behind,” said Joynt, who’s with the Harvard School of Public Health.

The mortality rates for Medicare patients with heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia reached 13.3 percent in 2010 at the critical-access hospitals. The other hospitals recorded an 11.4 percent death rate that same year.

The National Rural Health Association’s Brock Slabach said there is more to a hospital than mortality rates, so these small facilities shouldn’t be judged by that statistic alone.

“Mortality is just one small part of the picture,” Slabach said.

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