Context: Hospitals play a central role in small rural communities and are frequently one of the major contributors to the local economy. Surgical services often account for a substantial proportion of hospital revenues. The current shortage of general surgeons practicing in rural communities may further threaten the financial viability of rural hospitals and communities.
Purpose: To describe hospital administrators' perceptions regarding the current state of general surgery programs at small rural hospitals in New York State, including the impact that surgical services have on hospital financial viability.
Methods: A list of hospitals belonging to the rural hospitals group of the Healthcare Association of New York State was obtained to determine prospective survey recipients. Sixty-eight administrators at each of the identified hospitals were subsequently surveyed and 38 respondents met all inclusion criteria.
Findings: Approximately 87% of hospital administrators perceive that the general surgery program is critical to the hospital's financial viability. Forty percent of respondents report that they would be forced to close the hospital if the surgical program was lost. Among the 42% of administrators trying to recruit a general surgeon, almost two thirds have been searching for more than 1 year.
Conclusions: According to the perceptions of hospital administrators, the financial viability of rural hospitals in New York State depends in large part on their ability to provide surgical services. Additionally, general surgeons appear to be in high demand at a significant number of the surveyed institutions.