13 rural hospitals have closed across Tennessee – leaving tens of thousands of people without access to any nearby hospital. Stories of sick families in speeding ambulances driving by closed hospitals have spread through the state.

According to the Department of Health, 93% of Tennessee is rural. And Tennessee has had more rural hospital closures than nearly every other state in the country.

In my Congressional district, two rural hospitals are in danger of closure – Peninsula Hospital in Blount County and Jellico Community Hospital in Campbell. Workers at the hospital in Jellico reported missing two paychecks already this year.

But the Tennessee state government has refused to expand Medicaid – which would give billions of dollars from the federal government to provide insurance for working-class Tennesseans & help keep rural hospitals open. Instead, they’ve appropriated just three million dollars to hire private consultants to fix the problem – a smaller investment than the deficit Peninsula Hospital faced in the last three years alone.

But this isn’t just a problem in Tennessee – since 2005, more than 170 rural hospitals have closed across the United States. If Congress doesn’t act, nearly 12 million additional rural Americans could lose access to direct care, while seriously damaging their local economies too.

A changing world may require new models to meet the needs of rural communities, but while we work to develop those models, we need to take immediate steps to prevent further closures, like:

  • Passing the bipartisan “Save Rural Hospitals Act”
  • Expanding quality, affordable broadband in rural communities to encourage tele-heath
  • End the Medicare sequestration cuts
  • Let rural hospitals write off care they provide that never gets paid for

Our rural communities are suffering. Congress needs to act to help them. When I get to D.C., I’ve got a plan to do it.