Hospitals are the backbone of every community's health. From providing inpatient and outpatient care to supporting health clinics and beyond, your hospital plays a leading role in protecting your community's health and improving its overall health status.

Hospitals make enormous contributions to the lives of Americans. For example, in 2008, hospitals treated 123 million people in their emergency departments, provided care for 624 million outpatients, performed 27 million surgeries and delivered 4 million babies.

In the process, hospitals are significant contributors to their local economies: They are the second-largest source of private-sector jobs in America, employing more than 5.3 million people. Hospitals also spend approximately $320 billion annually on goods and services from other businesses, which supports one in nine jobs in the United States, and create more than $2 trillion in economic activity.

But the economy continues to hurt hospitals, as patients opt to delay or forgo care due to tight family budgets. The situation is exacerbated by a growth in uncompensated care: Nine in 10 hospitals reported increased care for which the institution received no payment at all.

Hospitals are making significant changes in an effort to weather the economic storm, including cutting administrative costs, reducing staff and curtailing services. Health care reform, while accompanied by a welcome expansion of health insurance coverage, will bring a host of additional challenges as hospitals adapt to delivery system reforms.

Hospitals agreed to shoulder $155 billion in cuts as their part of shared responsibility for health care reform, but the administration recently went a step further and approved additional spending cuts. These reductions in reimbursement will increase the strain on some hospitals and could force many to cut back on much-needed services.

Campaign season is in full swing and, as a community leader, candidates will be looking for your support. Please urge your congressional candidates to go on record with their support for your local hospitals by pledging to oppose any additional cuts to hospital reimbursement. Hospitals cannot sustain additional cuts, and neither can the communities that depend on them.

Stephen Smart, D.D.S. (scsmart@suddenlink.net), is COG chair and chair of Medical Center of South Arkansas in El Dorado, Ark.