Covid-19 pandemic puts new strain on rural hospitals

More than 100 rural hospitals closed last year, evidence of the financial strain that smaller hospitals face day to day. “Often underfunded, understaffed and under-supplied, they’re now facing the looming impacts of Covid-19,” said NBC News.

The $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill has more than $100 billion for hospitals but it’s not clear how the funds will be distributed. Rural health leaders said they want a fair share of the money but worry that the funding might not offset the expenses of fighting the viral disease, so that more hospitals close. So far, rural areas have reported lower infection rates than urban areas so have had more time to prepare.

Meanwhile, a CDC official has suggested the shuttered rural hospitals could be re-opened as a safety valve for urban hospitals that are overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases, reported the Daily Yonder. “If the building can still be occupied, it can be re-opened to offer low-level care,” said Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases. Separately, an official at the National Rural Health Association said it could be easier and faster to re-open empty hospitals than build new structures.

“But in some rural communities, preparation for the pandemic has resulted in less demand for healthcare, not more,” said the Daily Yonder, because some healthcare providers canceled routine services.