Indiana News

IU Health to end Blackford Hospital’s ER, inpatient services

Photo Supplied/IU Health

HARTFORD CITY, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) – Blackford Hospital, a 15-bed, rural hospital in Hartford City, plans to close its emergency room and end inpatient care services, citing a reduction in patient volume.

The move means that patients who need acute hospital care, such as surgery or trauma care, will need to travel more than 20 miles to Jay Hospital in Portland, Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie or Marion General Hospital in Marion.

Blackford Hospital is located about 80 miles northeast of Indianapolis.

Blackford, Jay and Ball Memorial are owned by Indiana University Health. Marion General is owned by Grant County.

IU Health said Monday it did not know the number of employees who will be impacted. “IU Health is making every effort to support potentially impacted team members by helping them find a comparable position within IU Health,” the hospital system said.

IU Health is the largest health system in Indiana, with 16 hospitals and hundreds of clinics, urgent care centers, laboratories and imaging centers.

The closing of Blackford Hospital’s ER and inpatient services, announced last week, is the latest setback for patients in rural Indiana counties.

In December, Ascension St. Vincent closed Dunn Hospital, a critical care hospital in Bedford, about 75 miles south of Indianapolis. Other rural hospitals that closed include Fayette Regional Health in Connersville (2019) and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Huntingburg (2007).

Rural hospitals have long struggled to stay afloat, serving populations that are older, less healthy and less affluent than those of their urban counterparts. Nearly 130 rural hospitals across the nation have shut their doors since 2010, according to the American Hospital Association.

IU Health said it had no plans to close Blackford Hospital and will continue to offer a broad array of outpatient care, including primary care, mammography, CT scans, ultrasound, physical therapy, laboratory testing, retail pharmacy and ambulance services.

“We are committed to providing health care services to the Blackford County community on a long-term basis,” Dr. Jeffrey Bird, president of IU Health’s East Central Region, said in written remarks.

IU Health said the number of people seeking medical care at Blackford Hospital has declined, prompting it to implement “modifications” in services.

ER visits to Blackford Hospital have declined by 9% between 2014 and 2021, the oldest and most recent annual reports available from the Indiana Department of Health.

However, the number of inpatient discharges has more than doubled over the same period, from 382 to 1,298, according to the filings. An IU Health spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The hospital had total gross patient service revenue of $61.2 million in 2021, up from $36.8 million in 2014.

Financial pressures at many rural hospitals include a low percentage of patients with private insurance and a lack of high-margin service lines, such as neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery, due to limited demand.

The situation in Blackford County is symptomatic of the financial pressures felt by rural and critical-access hospitals across the state, officials said.

Fourteen of Indiana’s 54 rural hospitals are at immediate risk of closing because of continuing financial losses and lack of financial reserves to sustain operations, according to a report last year from the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform.

“While this decision is based largely on declining occupancy and utilization for this facility, I do expect more reductions in services over the coming months given looming state and federal reimbursement cuts, continuing staffing shortages, and the overall fragile state of hospitals’ finances,” said Brian Tabor, president of the Indiana Hospital Association.

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