(Missourinet)– A congressman who represents 30 counties in southern Missouri has seen five hospital closings in his sprawling district since 2016.
U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, describes the rural hospital closures as unacceptable.
“Just because you live in a zip code that’s in a rural area doesn’t mean that you should have a different class of care, or different opportunities as other people throughout the state,” Smith says.
Smith says people die when hospitals close, noting that rural hospital closures are associated with an increase in an area’s mortality rate.
The state Hospital Association (MHA) says ten rural Missouri hospitals have closed since 2014. Five of those happened in Congressman Smith’s district:
** Parkland Health Center in Farmington (2016)
** Southeast Health Center of Reynolds County in Ellington (2016)
** Southeast Health Center of Ripley County in Doniphan (2018)
** Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center in Kennett (2018)
** Black River Medical Center in Poplar Bluff (2019)
Smith, the GOP Conference Secretary on Capitol Hill, serves on the House Budget Committee. He tells Missourinet that rural hospitals must be reimbursed appropriately.
“Where it’s at the same level as you see in the cities,” says Smith. “The fact that they’re (rural hospitals) not reimbursed at the same levels as the hospitals in St. Louis forces closures, and that’s unacceptable.”
Smith’s district covers 20,000 square miles, from just south of St. Louis to ten miles east of Branson. The district includes Cape Girardeau, Sikeston, Dexter, West Plains, Rolla, St. James and Ava.
Congressman Smith is calling for an increase in the number of healthcare professionals that can serve rural Missouri patients.
“Whenever one hospital closes in a community, that has drastic implications and it can cost lives,” Smith says.
Nine of the ten poorest counties in the state are in southeast Missouri, which has seen the largest number of closings.
The Missouri Hospital Association supports Medicaid expansion, which Smith opposes.
Smith spoke to Missourinet, after he traveled recently to Jefferson City to file for his fourth full term. Smith was elected to Congress in 2013, during a special election.
Smith was re-elected in 2018, capturing 73 percent of the vote against Democrat Kathy Ellis. Ms. Ellis, a Festus Democrat, has filed to challenge Smith again this November.