Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Amid Hospital Closures, Who Is Caring For Rural Americans?

Francis Jeppsen and Robert Pacheco comfort their daughter Danielle, 5, after she received two vaccination shots at the Spanish Peaks Outreach Clinic in Walsenburg, Colorado.  The Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center treats rural Coloradans who come for medical care from throughout southern Colorado, where hospitals and clinics are scarce. The outreach clinic is designed for patients with little or no health coverage.
John Moore/Getty Images
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

If you’re pregnant in the Missouri Bootheel, you might have to drive as far as 100 miles to get to the hospital if something goes wrong — or if the baby is coming.

The New York Times reported on the case of 21-year-old Kela Abernathy, who was pregnant with twins and woke up at 4:30 a.m., screaming in pain.

[The twins] were not due for another two months. But the contractions seizing Ms. Abernathy’s lower back early that June morning told her that her son and daughter were coming. Now.

Ms. Abernathy, 21, staggered out of bed and yelled for her mother, Lynn, who had been lying awake on the living-room couch. They grabbed a few bags, scooped up Ms. Abernathy’s 2-year-old son and were soon hurtling across this poor patch of southeast Missouri in their Pontiac Bonneville, racing for help. The old hospital used to be around the corner. Now, her new doctor and hospital were nearly 100 miles away.

Medical help is growing dangerously distant for women in rural America. At least 85 rural hospitals — about 5 percent of the country’s total — have closed since 2010, and obstetric care has faced even starker cutbacks as rural hospitals calculate the hard math of survival, weighing the cost of providing 24/7 delivery services against dwindling birthrates, doctor and nursing shortages and falling revenues.

The problem goes beyond access to sufficient obstetric care. The University of North Carolina’s Rural Health Research Program noted that there have been 95 rural hospital closures from January 2010 to the present. And many of the states with the most closures have “refus[ed] federal money available for Medicaid expansion,” according to the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute. That list of states includes Missouri, where Ms. Abernathy lived, as of the Times story’s publication.

What are lawmakers and citizens doing to address the dearth of healthcare for rural residents?

This show was produced by our Across America team, James Morrison and Amanda Williams. Find out more about them and our project here.


Jim McLean, Chief political reporter, Kansas News Service, which includes KMUW, an Across America partner; @jmcleanks

Sarah Jane Tribble, Senior correspondent, Kaiser Health News; @sjtribble

For more, visit

© 2019 WAMU 88.5 – American University Radio.

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.