Community sociodemographics and rural hospital survival

Claudia A. Rhoades, Brian E. Whitacre, Alison F. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: To determine whether community sociodemographic factors are associated with the survival or closure of rural hospitals at risk of financial distress between 2010 and 2019. Methods: We use a national sample of 985 rural hospitals at risk of financial distress to analyze the relationship between community sociodemographic characteristics and hospital survival or closure. We control for financial distress using the Financial Distress Index developed by the Sheps Center for Health Services Research. Community characteristics are retrieved from the Census and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. We first use Wilcoxon rank-sum tests to demonstrate annual sociodemographic differences between rural communities with financially distressed hospitals that closed between 2010 and 2019, and those that remained open. Multilevel Weibull proportional hazards regressions then uncover which sociodemographic factors are significantly associated with survival. Findings: Our initial results confirm that closures of rural hospitals at risk of financial distress disproportionately affect communities with certain sociodemographic characteristics. However, most of these characteristics are not associated with higher rates of closure in the multivariate survival analysis. The final results suggest that financially distressed hospitals are more likely to experience closure if their communities have higher rates of unemployment (Hazard Ratio = 1.36, P <.05) or uninsured residents under 65 (Hazard Ratio = 1.13, P <.05). Conclusions: Among financially distressed rural hospitals, specific community-level sociodemographic characteristics (unemployment and uninsurance rates) are positively associated with the likelihood of closure. Social policies addressing these issues should emphasize their broader relationship with the local health sector.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)643-655
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Rural Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. The Journal of Rural Health published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of National Rural Health Association.


  • financial distress
  • hospital closure
  • rural hospitals
  • sociodemographic factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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