With some rural hospitals struggling even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, federal funds have been key to helping many small medical facilities survive.
In 2020, funding started with the CARES Act that provided $10 billion to hospitals and health clinics in the spring. That was added to when rural hospitals were allocated close to $100,000 each in the summer of 2020. Now the facilities will be receiving money from the American Rescue Plan that will allocate another $8.3 billion to rural hospitals.
Brock Slabagh, chief operating officer for the American Rural Health Care Association, said hospital expenses went up during the pandemic and there were times when elective procedures were not happening. He said the uncertainty of the delta variant and a recent surge in cases in areas where many are unvaccinated continues to raise concerns.
“The big variable that we don’t know yet is the impact of the Delta variant and the emerging Lambda variant in terms of the spread of disease, especially for those unvaccinated,” Slabagh said. “We’re really not certain of the fall and winter in terms of the impact that’s going to have on providers in terms of the surge and in terms of their ability to accommodate the potential volume.”
Slabagh said that as cases rise and we enter another stage of the pandemic, supplies of personal protective equipment and ventilators are good, although hospitals in Springfield, Missouri, scrambling to secure enough of the assisted breathing devices is concerning.
“Everything seems to be in good shape for the most part with exceptions,” Slabagh said.
He said he believes that hospitals are prepared for surges and added that it is essential that rural facilities remain open. With 138 rural hospitals closing in recent years, he said it is essential to make sure more don’t suffer the same fate.
Slabagh said that outside of the relief money, Medicaid expansion that has passed in Missouri will continue to not only help patients but also hospitals by providing compensated care.