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What Are Community Hospitals?

What Are Community, Rural, and Critical Access Hospitals?

Community hospitals play a critical role in U.S. health care, often serving populations without access to, or neglected by, larger hospitals or health care systems. These hospitals are generally defined in three ways:

  • Community Hospitals – The overarching term for smaller hospitals
  • Rural Hospitals – A subset of community hospitals along with urban ones
  • Critical Access Hospitals – A subset of rural hospitals that meet special criteria
Let’s define each of these terms in more detail. What Are Community Hospitals?

The American Hospital Association (AHA) defines community hospitals as “all nonfederal, short-term general, and other special hospitals.” Special hospitals include “those dedicated to obstetrics and gynecology; eye, ear, nose, and throat; rehabilitation; orthopedic; and other individually described specialty services.” The term also includes non-federal, short-term academic medical centers and teaching hospitals. Also according to the AHA, there are 4,974 community hospitals in the U.S. – 3,003 urban and 1,971 rural.

What Are Rural Hospitals?

By definition, a rural hospital is one located in one of the rural areas of the U.S. where 19 percent of the population resides. The individuals in these areas are primarily farmers, farm workers, ranchers, small businessmen, and agricultural suppliers, who often must travel long distances to access health care. According to the AHA, there are 1,971 rural hospitals in the U.S., which serve 51 million people.

What Are Critical Access Hospitals?

The Health Resources and Services Administration’s definition of critical access hospitals (CAHs) includes those that are “certified under a set of Medicare Conditions of Participation.” Some of the requirements for CAH certification are:

  • No more than 25 inpatient beds
  • Average length of stay of no more than 96 hours for acute inpatient care
  • 24-hour, 7-day-a-week emergency care
  • Location in a rural area at least a 35-mile drive from any other hospital or CAH (fewer in some circumstances)

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