We can’t dismiss the challenges facing rural hospitals in Wisconsin, just because we don’t have a hospital in our community.

Neither Cambridge nor Deerfield has ever had its own hospital.

There is, however, a clinic in Cambridge that’s associated with Fort Memorial Hospital in Fort Atkinson.

And just down the road is another small community hospital, Stoughton Hospital, whose roots go back more than a century. Many more community hospitals like these operate throughout the state.

While not large, both the Fort Atkinson and Stoughton Hospitals are vital community institutions working hard to provide 21st-Century services.

Recent news reports have chronicled, however, how many rural hospitals across Wisconsin are deeply in debt, cutting services, and some have closed. Nationwide, meanwhile, closings of rural hospitals have been sharply on the uptick.

Small rural hospitals, like any business, have to compete in the broader marketplace while not forgetting their mission to serve.

As our local hardware, grocery and other retailers know well, succeeding on the business side is challenging at best.

Luring doctors and other medical professionals to small rural hospitals has also become increasingly difficult, reports have further indicated, as potential employees consider whether a small town offers enough for their families.

Hopefully, the Fort Atkinson and Stoughton hospitals and associated clinics are able to weather this trend.

The continued strength of the Fort HealthCare Clinic has obvious direct benefits in Cambridge, tying community members into the Fort Atkinson hospital’s care system as well as providing local jobs.

But here in Cambridge and Deerfield, we should care just as much that hospitals like Stoughton, that are a bit farther afield, remain viable.

Because there are individual small towns and then there is the essence of small-town life in Wisconsin.

Of which we are a part.

The biggest danger to Wisconsin’s collective small-town essence isn’t sudden change but rather the slow erosion of Main Street and other community structures. The slow encroachment of suburbs and strip malls. The gradual loss of farm families. The slow financial decay of our community health care systems.

Small towns need to hold each other up. To speak out and try to help when something is going awry down the road. And while we still have the chance, to support what isn’t – yet — broken.

Because every small town that fades into decline — whether from the loss of Main Street retail or the loss of health care services and good jobs from the closure of a small-town hospital and/or clinic — is one more quilt square of Wisconsin’s small-town essence lost.

That we’ll never get back.

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