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Coronavirus Threatens Rural Hospitals Already On The Brink of Closure

Hospitals across America are rapidly losing profits as they prepare for COVID-19. With normally lucrative services like elective surgeries and routine visits cancelled or delayed and the price of basic medical supplies like masks and ventilators soaring, more and more hospitals are being pushed towards the red zone. For already strained rural hospitals, coronavirus might mean financial ruin.

Last Thursday, The American Hospital Association responded to COVID-19 by asking Congress for $100 billion to offset coronavirus costs. The Association cited rural hospital’s inability to provide life-saving services while withstanding huge losses.

“If we’re not able to address the short-term cash needs of rural hospitals, we’re going to see hundreds of rural hospitals close before this crisis ends,” Alan Morgan, the head of the National Rural Health Association, warned. “This is not hyperbole.”

The National Rural Health Association, which represents 21,000 health care providers and hospitals, is lobbying for immediate cash assistance, no-interest loans, Medicare reimbursement adjustments, and other suggestions to alleviate stress.

Rural health care providers were struggling long before the pandemic hit. A combination of narrowing Medicare reimbursements, more patients without insurance, and the hollowing of rural America have placed financial stress rural hospitals– so hard that over the past decade, over 120 rural hospitals have been forced to close.

Elective surgeries, physical therapy, and lab-tests have helped rural hospitals stay afloat. However, a majority still operate in the red. Coronavirus may be the last push needed to shut down these rural hospitals.

Rural hospital providers warn that if nothing is done, rural communities are set to lose vital service providers.

“We can talk all we want about the cost of health care in this country in this ridiculous health care system we have,” Robin Rau, CEO of Miller County Hospital in Colquitt, Georgia, stated in an interview with Kaiser Health News. “But at a time like this, who for a minute would think about getting rid of rural hospitals?”

[The Chartis Group, Chartis Center for Rural Health, February 2020] [Time, 3/18/2020] [American Health Association, 3/19/2020] [Kaiser Health News, 3/21/2020] [ABC News, 3/23/2020] [National Rural Health Association, accessed 3/23/2020]

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