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This town of the Tennessee Delta, seat of a county that once grew the most cotton east of the Mississippi, relied for decades on a little public hospital built during the Great Depression a few blocks from the courthouse square.

The red-brick building was knocked down in the 1970s when a for-profit chain came along and opened a modern stucco hospital on the north side of town. There, thousands of babies were born, pneumonias and failing hearts were treated and the longtime family doctor across the parking lot could wheel the sickest patients who arrived at his office right into the emergency room.

But these days, plywood boards are nailed up behind the hospital’s sliding glass entrances. Black paint is smudged across signs over its doorways. The nearest ER is more than a half-hour ambulance ride away.

The demise of Haywood Park Community Hospital three years ago this summer added Brownsville to an epidemic of dying hospitals across rural America. Nearly 80 have closed since 2010, including nine in Tennessee, more than in any state but Texas. Many more are considered fragile — downstream victims of federal health policies, shifts in medical practice and the limited tolerance of distant corporate owners for empty beds and financial losses.

In every rural community, the ripple effects of a lost hospital are profound, reverberating beyond the inability of would-be patients to get immediate care. Many of the best jobs in town vanish. Local leaders trying to recruit new industry face an extra hurdle.

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