Rural healthcare providers are optimistic despite the many challenges they face, according to Wipfli’s 2024 state of rural healthcare research and outlook.
A full 91% expressed either cautious or complete optimism about their financial viability. Despite the challenges posed by inflation, higher expenses and the end of COVID-19 funding, 40% of organizations reported higher financial stability compared to Wipfli’s initial survey a year ago.
“The resiliency of rural healthcare organizations heading into 2024 is impressive,” said Kelly Arduino, healthcare practice leader at Wipfli. “Rural health is comparatively less financially stressed than larger hospital systems, where layoffs are more common.
“We’re starting to see rural organizations change their tactics in managing their workforce; culture and better benefits are seeing higher payoffs for retaining top talent,” she said. “However, there are certainly regional differences in terms of how rural providers and critical access hospitals are performing, with a number of these facilities facing serious challenges with uncertain outcomes.”
Despite a nationwide labor shortage, over a third of respondents noted an improvement in their workforce situation compared to last year. Leadership training is identified as a key need, with 52% of organizations acknowledging it could help address staffing issues. Also, financial stability remains a key focus, with 60% of organizations believing they are in better financial shape today than five years ago.
About 70% of respondents told us they’re likely to expand service lines to increase revenue. Twenty-seven percent are planning to invest in new clinics and 42% plan to expand via other new facilities in the next two to five years. Twenty-five percent plan to invest in new clinics next year. To finance their expansions, rural hospitals are leveraging U.S. Department of Agriculture financing and local property tax support, as well as taking on new debt.
Of the 106 organizations in 26 states surveyed, 68% are independently operated and the balance is part of a health system. Seventy-five percent are critical access hospitals, 10% are independent rural health clinics, 7% are provider-based health clinics, 2% are PPS hospitals and 5% are other.
To learn more, download a copy of the “State of Rural Healthcare” report or find out more about our rural healthcare solutions.