Report details rural hospitals’ economic impacts

A report by the Foundation of the Healthy Communities and the New Hampshire Rural Health Coalition aims to show that hospitals in the state’s rural areas have a significant economic impact on their regions and the state as a whole.

According to “The Economic Impact of Rural Hospitals on New Hampshire’s Rural Health Service Areas,” released May 22, hospitals are often the largest employer in the area, and for every job and dollar directly created by a rural hospital, two jobs and two more dollars are indirectly created through supporting businesses and services.

New Hampshire has 24 health services areas, or HSAs, with a total of 26 acute care hospitals. Fourteen of the areas are considered rural and are served by rural hospitals.

The state Department of Health and Human Services established the HSAs in 1999 after a study of hospital market share.

According to the report, the state’s 14 rural hospitals employ more than 6,300 people with a combined payroll of $245 million.

While these figures represent just over 1 percent of the state’s total employment, the health-care industry represents nearly 25 percent of employment in rural areas.

When those numbers are extrapolated to include associated services, such as physician practices, nursing homes and pharmacies, those employed in hospital-related services expands to include another 12,000 people, generating a combined income of $457 million, for a total rural health sector employing over 18,000 people with over $700 million in payroll and benefits.

Those results can be extended even further as rural hospitals contract services from other non-health care-related businesses.

Rural hospitals tend to utilize other local businesses, such as facilities maintenance and landscaping, further extending their economic impact.

According to the study, a total of 22,865 people were employed at all hospitals (rural, non-rural and specialty facilities) in the state in 2003, with rural hospital employees representing nearly 28 percent of the total hospital workforce.

Even though it is within the Lebanon rural hospital health service area, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center was excluded from certain statistics illustrated in the study because of its unique scope of services, number of employees and payroll information.

“We all recognize the critical role hospitals play in public health, but it is extraordinary to see what a major impact they have on the health of our regional economy,” said Michael King, executive director of North Country Council Inc., a regional planning commission and economic development agency. “It is worth noting the demands which are being placed on hospitals. We must be mindful of their own economic health to be sure they will continue to be here for us when we need them.”

To view a full copy of the study, visit – CINDY KIBBE

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