Rural hospitals in SC struggle to survive

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - State officials say many of the rural hospitals in South Carolina must change to survive.

Health and Human Services Director Tony Keck says rural hospitals have been bleeding money for years.

The seven smallest hospitals lost $35 million between 2007 and 2009.

State officials say having several counties share a hospital is one approach. Other options include having rural hospitals affiliate with financially strong urban operations or converting the local hospitals to focus on primary and emergency care rather than treating patients in a traditional hospital setting.

The Department of Health and Human Services, the South Carolina Hospital Association, the state rural health office, doctors and the state's largest insurance payer BlueCross-BlueShield plan a meeting in the coming months to discuss possible changes.

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