Health care is often viewed as an economic necessity in rural Kentucky. Current and historical data show that hospitals are as vital to communities like Harlan County for their economic activity as for the medical services they provide.
“When companies or businesses are considering expansion, they want to know what your health care situation is,” said Harlan County Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop, who has been involved in multiple industrial recruitment and business development efforts during his 16 years in office.
“It’s a subject that is always on their agenda because it’s something they need for their business, their employees and their families,” he added. “The hospital is an important asset to our community’s future economic development because its presence is a key factor in attracting any new business.”
One of the local priorities for business development has been securing viable opportunities to create projects attractive to retirees, especially those with ties to the area, Grieshop said.
“If we want to develop any sort of retirement community in Harlan County - and there’s been a increased amount of discussion for that recently - then we have got to have quality health care services as that is the critical part of the infrastructure for any growth in that direction,” he said.
According to the Kentucky Hospital Association (KHA), over the last year, overall employment by Kentucky hospitals has risen in response to greater community needs for inpatient and outpatient services. According to local officials, employment in Harlan County health care jobs has remained stable.
Data supplied by KHA shows the jobs and payroll generated by the state’s hospitals supply tax revenue to state and local governments, and support other Kentucky businesses through the purchase of goods and services.
According to KHA, in 2012 (the most recent year for which complete data is available), Harlan ARH Hospital spent nearly $42.5 million on employee wages and salaries, and the purchase of supplies and services.
“These dollars have a ‘ripple effect’ as they move through the larger economy in the community,” Grieshop said. “These dollars support other businesses and jobs here.”
Currently, the hospital provides approximately 550 jobs in Harlan County that generate a local annual payroll of $33.7 million, and the ARH system is the second largest local employer after the county school system.
“That’s a significant number of people in a community the size of ours,” Grieshop said.
Because hospitals require highly-trained staff, the average employee wage is 20 percent higher than the average wage of all other private employers in Kentucky, according to the KHA.
The presence of the hospital in Harlan also supports the function of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College. The college’s Division of Allied Health trains a significant portion of the staff at Harlan ARH — such as nursing, radiography, lab technology and other specialized personnel.
Hospitals also continually make investments in their physical plants to enhance quality of care for patients and these capital projects are a source of a significant number of jobs. Harlan ARH spent $1.1 million on capital projects in 2012.
Mostly, the hospital is a critically important service for daily life in Harlan County, Grieshop noted. Again drawing from 2012 data supplied by KHA, Harlan ARH Hospital cared for 4,942 patients admitted to its nursing units, welcomed 297 babies into the world, treated 21,399 people in the emergency department, and registered more than 65,744 visits to its outpatient service departments.