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Hospital Closure Makes It Harder For A Town To Attract Retirees: Shots



Before it closed March 1, the 25-bed Columbia River Hospital, in Celina, Tenn., Served the city of 1,500 residents. The closest hospital now is 18 miles from Celina ̵

1; 30 minutes or more drive on mountain roads.
                
                
                    
                    Blake Farmer / WPLN
                    
                

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Blake Farmer / WPLN
        
    

Before it was closed March 1, the 25-bed Columbia River Hospital, in Celina, Tenn., Served the city of 1,500 residents. The closest hospital now is 18 miles from Celina – 30 minutes or more drive on mountain roads

Blake Farmer / WPLN
            
        

When a rural community loses its hospital, health becomes harder to come by in a moment. But a hospital closure also shocks a small town's economy. It shuts down one of its largest employers. It scares off the heavy industry that needs an emergency room nearby.

Seniors, and their retirement accounts, have been seen as potential saviors for many rural economies trying to make up for lost jobs. But the epidemic of rural hospital closures is threatening those dreams in places like Celina, Tenn .. The city of 1,500, whose 25-bed hospital closed March 1, has been trying to position itself as a retiree destination

"I'd say, look elsewhere," says Susan Scovel, and Seattle transplant who came with her husband in 2015.

Scovel's despondence is especially noteworthy given that she leads the local chamber of commerce effort to attract retirees like herself. She considers the wooded hills and secluded lake to hold comparable scenic beauty to the Washington coast – with dramaticly lower costs of living;

When she first toured the region before moving in 2015, Scovel and her husband, who had Parkinson's, made sure the scope of the hospital, on a hill overlooking the sleepy town square. And she's rushed to the hospital four times since he died in 2017.

"I have very high blood pressure, and they're able to do the IVs to get it down," Scovel says. "It's an anxiety thing since my husband died. So now – I do not know."

She says she can not in good conscience advise a senior with health problems to join her in Celina. Bailey has spent most of her life in Celina and started her nursing career at Cumberland River Hospital. She now worries that her closure will drive away the city's remaining physicians.
                
                
                    
                    Blake Farmer / WPLN
                    
                

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Blake Farmer / WPLN
        
    

Susan Bailey has spent most of her life in Celina and started her nursing career at Cumberland River Hospital.

Blake Farmer / WPLN

Blake Farmer / WPLN
            
        

The closure adds delays when seconds count

Celina's Cumberland River Hospital has been on life support for years, operated by the city-owned medical center one hour away in Cookeville, which decided in late January to cut its losses after trying to find a buyer. Cookeville Regional Medical Center explains that the facility faced the grim reality for many rural providers

"Unfortunately, many rural hospitals across the country are having a difficult time facing the same challenges, such as declining reimbursements and lower patient volumes, that Cumberland River Hospital has experienced, "CEO Paul Korth said in a written statement.

Celina became the 11th rural hospital in Tennessee to close in recent years – more than any state but Texas. Both states have refused to expand Medicaid in a way that covers more of the working poor. Even the Republicans now say the decision to expand Medicaid has added to the struggles of rural health care providers.

The closest hospital is now 18 miles away. That adds another 30 minutes through mountain roads for those who need an X-ray or blood work. For those in the back of an ambulance, that bit of time could make the difference between life or death.

Staff members posted the photos and other memorabilia in the halls – the reminders of happier times – in the weeks before its closure.
                
                
                    
                    Blake Farmer / WPLN
                    
                

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Blake Farmer / WPLN
        
    

Staff members posted photos and other memorabilia in the halls – reminders of happier times

Blake Farmer / WPLN
            
        

"We have the capability of doing a lot of advanced life support, but we're not a hospital," says Natalie Boone, emergency manager,

The area is already limited in its ambulance service, with two of his four trucks out of service.

Once a crew is dispatched, Boone says, it's committed to that call. Adding an hour to the turnaround time means that someone else would probably call with an emergency and be told – essentially – to wait in line

"What happens when you have that patient that does not have that extra time?" Boone asks. "I can think of at least a minimum of two patients [in the last month] that did not have that time."

Residents are bracing for cascading effects. Susan Bailey has not retired yet, but she's close. She's spent almost 40 years as a registered nurse, including her early career at Cumberland River.

"People say, 'You just need to move or find another place to go,'" she says. hospital meant 147 nurses, aides and clerical staff had to find new jobs. The hospital was the second-largest employer, after the local school system.
                
                
                    
                    Blake Farmer / WPLN
                    
                

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Blake Farmer / WPLN
        
    

Closure of the hospital meant 147 nurses, aides and clerical staff had to find new jobs.

Blake Farmer / WPLN

Blake Farmer / WPLN
            
        

Bailey and others are concerned that losing the hospital will soon mean losing the only three doctors in town. Doctors say they plan to keep their practices going, but for how long? And what about when they retire?

"That's a big problem," Bailey says. "The doctors are not going to want to come in and open an office and have to drive 20 or 30 minutes to see their patients every single day."


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