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Rural providers: The most important small businesses in a pandemic

Is rural America ready for a pandemic? Per capita, rural Americas are older and sicker with higher percentages of the six leading chronic diseases, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19. At the same time, rural health care providers are struggling to keep their doors open. Nearly half of all rural hospitals operate at a financial loss, and the rural hospital closure crisis has created health care deserts throughout rural America.

Today, with the pandemic poised to hit rural America hard, rural providers are already reporting shortages of COVID-19 tests, swabs, masks, gowns, and other personal protective equipment. Many rural hospitals only have one ventilator. Workforce shortages plague rural hospitals. If one rural nurse is forced to quarantine, it’s a substantial workforce loss to the entire hospital. The gravest need by far is access to capital to buy supplies and pay staff. The forced cancelation of non-emergency services is creating a revenue void and a financial crisis for vulnerable, small rural hospitals and providers. Many rural hospitals, clinics, and small physician practices report that they are struggling to make payroll, and some are being forced to lay off staff. This is the exact opposite of what should be happening in a pandemic.

As Congress races to provide relief for small restaurants and bars (and rightfully so), let’s remember that rural health care providers are the most important small businesses during a pandemic. Keeping these facilities open should be at the top of Congress’ to-do list. A stimulus package must include emergency relief that will enable rural providers to do what they do best – provide quality care for rural Americans. These providers should have immediate access to capital, loan forbearance so they can keep cash on hand, and equitable Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates to provide long-term stability.

Congress – get it done.

NRHA has produced a web page for the latest COVID-19 information and resources we have compiled to help you care for your rural community while NRHA’s advocacy team is working with the Administration and Congress to ensure rural providers have the resources to provide patient care and protect their workforce.

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