Morris County Hospital, Morris County, Kansas – A good local health care system may itself be part of the prescription for maintaining a healthy rural economy.
That was the bottom line from a study of the economic contribution of Morris County’s health care system produced by researchers at K-State Research and Extension. The study is part of a state-wide initiative called the Kansas Rural Health Works program sponsored by the Kansas Hospital Association.
According to the report, the health care sector accounted for an estimated 9.8 percent of Morris County’s total employment, or about 263 jobs, in 2014. Further, the study’s authors calculated economic multipliers for 13 health care sectors and estimated that health care directly and indirectly accounted for 313 jobs throughout the county economy. They go on to estimate that these same sectors accounted for more than $12,215,000 in total county income and about $2,830,000 in county retail sales.
Jim Reagan, CEO of Morris County Hospital, who released copies of the report, said he was somewhat surprised by the overall scale of the existing activity in the county. “I think we tend to take our local health services for granted, just a little,” he said. “We don’t realize how important health care is to the county’s economic wellbeing.” That is exactly the point the reports are trying to get across, according to Dr. John Leatherman, agricultural economist at K-State’s Office of Local Government and lead author of the report.
“Research has shown time and again that local health care and education are two enormously important factors for economic development,” Leatherman said, “and both can be positively or negatively influenced by local action or inaction.” He said the local health care system has sometimes been the “tie-breaker” in industry location decisions and that retirees view quality local health care as a “must have” local service.
Given the rapidly changing economics of health care systems, communities need to become more proactive in building a sustainable mix and level of services or risk losing local access.
“It is important for all Kansans to be aware of the local events and recent data that paints a picture of vulnerability for rural hospitals in addition to lack of coverage to our citizens and lost revenue to our state.”
“Kansas hospitals are a critical piece of the economic engine in Kansas communities and a symbol of continued community cohesion. They are important not only for the health care services they deliver, but for maintaining the overall economic vitality and viability of the communities they serve,” said Reagan.