FORTY-NINE YEARS ago, I was born at what was then called Olympic Memorial Hospital. Over the years, members of my family and I received good, quality care from what is now known as Olympic Medical Center’s well-trained physicians and nurses and from a staff that genuinely cares about the community.But the future of health care in rural communities faces extraordinary challenges that threaten the ability of folks to access the care they deserve.
Unfortunately, the reality for many Americans in rural areas when it comes to health care is a story of gaps and barriers. And this isn’t just a problem for the Olympic Peninsula.
Rural populations often bear the brunt of health care disparities. They are usually older, have less income and often have complex health issues.
These factors burden rural hospitals, many of which are already buckling under pressure. In fact, today, the rural hospital closure crisis threatens more than 400 rural hospitals nationwide with imminent closure.
For folks on the Olympic Peninsula, quality health care should be readily accessible – not a service only available in the shadow of the Space Needle. No matter who you are or where you’re from, you ought to be able to find quality, affordable medical care close to home.
This rural-urban health care divide is a crisis that demands urgent attention from Congress. That’s why, in July, I introduced a bipartisan bill in Congress known as the Rural Hospital Technical Assistance Program Act. With the support of one of my colleagues, a Republican from rural Texas, this bipartisan effort would provide targeted, in-depth technical assistance to vulnerable rural hospitals in communities struggling to maintain health care services.
That means helping to prevent closures, strengthening essential health care services in rural communities, and improving financial and operational performance.
Our bill seeks to alleviate the strain felt by many rural providers by authorizing new federal funding to support improvements to these crucial facilities, aiming to ensure that everyone, regardless of where they live, can stay just as healthy as someone living in big cities.
Consider the hypothetical — but very real — situation of an older patient with cancer in Port Townsend who receives chemotherapy multiple times a week at Jefferson Healthcare. Or the pregnant mother in Elma receiving prenatal and obstetrics care at Summit Pacific Medical Center. Without strong rural hospitals, these patients, and others, may face a long and burdensome commute to an urban hospital — or go without care entirely.
The Rural Hospital Technical Assistance Program Act aims to mitigate these very real scenarios and keep care facilities open and thriving, ensuring everyone can access medical care near home.
The Rural Hospital Technical Assistance Program Act is critical in bridging the gap of health care disparities we see every day. This legislation aims to prevent the unfortunate and unnecessary closure of rural hospitals and ensure that folks in rural communities receive the care they need — and deserve without the necessity of long-distance travel or facing financial ruin.
It isn’t just about keeping open facilities like Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles and Peninsula Community Health Services in Kitsap Mason and rural Pierce counties. It’s about keeping people healthy, employed with good-paying jobs, and improving care in rural America where the need is most critical.
The Rural Hospital Technical Assistance Program Act is a commitment to equity, a promise of access, and a crucial step toward ensuring that — going forward — quality health care isn’t a privilege confined to big cities. We deserve a future where care is not constrained by geography but is easily affordable and accessible for all.
Congressman Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Rural Hospital Technical Assistance Program Act bill has been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, Subcommittee on Commodity Markets, Digital Assets, and Rural Development.