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Fracking Boom Overwhelming Hospitals With Uninsured Laborers


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There’s no doubt that fracking has turned North Dakota into a boom town (and a bright one, at that), but there has also been a fair bit of bust along with it. The most recent news comes from a storyin the New York Times today about threats to the state’s health care providers. 

John Eligon writes:

The furious pace of oil exploration that has made North Dakota one of the healthiest economies in the country has had the opposite effect on the region’s health care providers. Swamped by uninsured laborers flocking to dangerous jobs, medical facilities in the area are sinking under skyrocketing debt, a flood of gruesome injuries and bloated business costs from the inflated economy.

The problems have been acute at McKenzie County Hospital here. Largely because of unpaid bills, the hospital’s debt has climbed more than 2,000 percent over the past four years to $1.2 million, according to Daniel Kelly, the hospital’s chief executive. Just three years ago, Mr. Kelly added, the hospital averaged 100 emergency room visits per month; last year, that average shot up to 400.

And that’s not all. According to the Times, between 2006 to 2011 ambulance calls went up 59 percent and traumatic injuries increased 200 percent from 2007 until the middle of 2012. 

The economic toll has been great. “The 12 medical facilities in western North Dakota saw their combined debt rise by 46 percent over the course of the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years, according to Darrold Bertsch, the president of the state’s Rural Health Association,” wrote Eligon.

If fracking is creating jobs, then it appears they’re not very good ones judging from the number of injuries, the lack of insurance for those employed, and their inability to pay for their medical care.

A similar situation was reported in Pennsylvania in the Marcellus Shale region, which I wrote about recently. The AP reported:

Jersey Shore Hospital president and CEO Carey Plummer told the Sun-Gazette of Williamsport that many subcontractors attracted to the area’s Marcellus Shale drilling boom do not cover employees.

That has brought a growing number of uninsured people to the community-owned, nonprofit hospital, Plummer said.

“We had a loss,” Plummer said. “I don’t think it’s a sign of the economy. I think it’s the influx of the gas, industry and those who lack insurance.”

When we talk about the economic impacts of fracking and whether it is a boon for the economy and communities, let’s make sure we’re looking at the whole picture.


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