Advocates warn rural hospitals face big trouble once COVID funding ends

Advocates warn rural hospitals face big trouble once COVID funding ends
Emergency department at a hospital. Image: Pexels / Pixabay

By Suzanne Potter
This story was originally published by Public News Service.

WASHINGTON — Rural hospitals in Nevada and across the country will be in dire economic straits once the COVID funding runs out, according to a new report.

Researchers at the Bipartisan Policy Center found 441 rural hospitals have multiple financial risk factors.

Julia Harris, senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center and the report’s co-author, said 116 hospitals closed between 2010 and 2019, and then the pace slowed during COVID.

“So, the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan really did a lot to stave off more hospitals from closing,” Harris acknowledged. “But that aid masked the fact that the underlying finances of rural hospitals continue to deteriorate, especially with new pressures brought on from the pandemic. “

All hospitals and especially rural facilities, have been hard hit during COVID with huge staff shortages and supply-chain issues driving up the price of goods they must purchase. And hospitals with a low volume of patients generally receive less funding.

According to an analysis from Becker’s Hospital Report in March, six of Nevada’s 13 rural hospitals are at risk of closing.

Joan Hall, president of Nevada Rural Hospital Partners, said some are considering joining a new federal program which would allow them to pare down their services but keep their emergency room.

“Some hospitals would not have inpatient services available,” Hall explained. “They would have an emergency room and outpatient services, diagnostic labs, imaging, but perhaps you wouldn’t be able to stay in the hospital if you needed. You’d have to be transferred.”

The report recommended the administration and Congress hold off on scheduled budget cuts, make higher Medicare payments permanent, and keep flexibility in telehealth until two years after the public health emergency ends.

Meanwhile, the state is collaborating with the University of Nevada Reno and the University of Nevada Las Vegas to train or recruit more medical professionals, especially nurses and respiratory therapists.