PARSON, Tenn. – With barely 11,000 residents you could consider Decatur County to be on the front lines of a battle being fought across rural America right now, one that small town hospitals are repeated losing putting patients in life or death situations.
Built in 1964, Decatur County General Hospital lies just a few blocks from the center of the town of Parsons. The “L” shaped building is currently running with a bare minimum staff, 80 full time employees and just one doctor. Hospital officials have worked tirelessly over the last few months, trimming the staff of nurses and lab technicians down from 110 people in an effort to minimize costs. The county mayor here estimates Decatur General lost about $200,000 last year, this life line to so many is currently on life support and in danger of closing.
“If this goes away there are so many people who won’t get the care they need,” says Paulette Johnson who was at the emergency room on a recent Tuesday having x-rays done on her neck.
The 67-year-old lives in Scotts Hill, Tennessee, a town that lies about 20 minutes away from the emergency room at Decatur County General Hospital. If this hospital shuts its doors, it would take more than an hour for Paulette to get to the next closest emergency room.
That kind of drive could mean the difference between life or death in an emergency.
“They can save your life here, you’re gonna lose your life if you have to go further,” Paulette says.
Decatur County General is hardly alone in the struggle to stay open. Nationwide 81 rural hospitals have closed since 2010. Nine of those closures have happened in Tennessee, county run hospitals from the eastern mountains to the Mississippi River have disappeared. The only state with more rural hospital closures than Tennessee is Texas, where in 2013 an 18-month old died after being rushed to an emergency room that her parents didn’t realize had closed.
Here is a list of the eight facilities that have recently closed in Tennessee:
- Riverview Regional Medical Center North (August 2012)
- Gibson General Hospital (January 2014)
- Humboldt General Hospital (January 2014)
- Haywood Park Community Hospital (August 2014)
- Methodist Healthcare-Fayette Hospital (March 2015)
- Medical Center of Manchester (July 2015)
- Tennova Healthcare McNairy Regional Hospital (May 2016)
- Pioneer Community Hospital of Scott, formerly Scott County Hospital (July 2016 but slated to reopen August 2017)