Seeking A Cure

Health care in the rural Midwest is undergoing a quiet transformation as rural hospitals struggle to make ends meet.

"Seeking A Cure: The quest to save rural hospitals" is a collaborative project between the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) and INN members IowaWatch, KCUR, Bridge Magazine, Wisconsin Watch, Side Effects Public Media and The Conversation; as well as Minnesota Public Radio, Iowa Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Radio, The Gazette, Iowa Falls Times Citizen and N'west Iowa Review.

The project was made possible by support from INN, with additional support from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.

Mark Zdechlik / MPR News

Not since 2006 has Bigfork Valley Hospital taken in more money than it spent providing care. Despite the nonstop financial woes, it continues on and even makes expensive improvements. The hospital recently built a memory care wing called Aspen Circle. Inside, Frank Sinatra wafts from a CD player. The unit has the feel of a homey lodge. It is open and airy, yet secure, explained Bigfork Valley Hospital CEO Aaron Saude on a recent tour.

Sitting at the edge of the gently undulating landscape of the Flint Hills in east-central Kansas, the town of Hillsboro boasts a small hospital that has survived a remarkable roller coaster ride even as other rural hospitals stagger and fail.  

Nine months ago, everything seemed to be coming apart at the 15-bed facility, Hillsboro Community Hospital, which traces its roots back more than a century.

Seeking A Cure: The Quest To Save Rural Hospitals

Sep 30, 2019
Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette

Small rural Midwest community hospitals, squeezed by financial and regulatory pressures, are scaling back on services, merging with larger hospital systems and searching for other creative ways to survive in the short term, an Institute for Nonprofit News investigation by 12 news organizations in seven states revealed.

Natalie Krebs/IPR

Jessica Sheridan’s plan was to have her first daughter at the local hospital, five minutes from her house in Iowa Falls. But when she was seven months pregnant, that plan suddenly changed.