The rural hospital system in the United States is struggling to manage the Covid-19 pandemic.
The spike of cases in rural America in the past few weeks has been a “challenge on a number of levels,” said Tom Morris, associate administrator for rural health policy in the federal government’s Health Resources and Services Administration. Morris made the comments Thursday during the National Institutes of Health rural health seminar.
Rural hospitals are small: Of the 2,000 hospitals considered to be rural, about 1,700 have 50 beds or fewer and 1,300 of them have 25 beds or fewer, said Morris, whose agency is part of the Health and Human Services Department.
“We’re not talking about large facilities. We’re not talking about a lot of ICU capacity,” Morris said. “In a lot of these hospitals, they’re able to offer an ICU of one or two beds. So, they have very limited inpatient resources.”
Limited work force: The rural medical work force needed to care for Covid-19 patients is extremely limited, he said, as is the supply chain that would provide protective equipment. Many of these hospitals are also “financially vulnerable,” Morris said.
Hospitals are closing: Morris said the Trump administration has given $150 million to the 1,700 50-bed rural hospitals to help with the extra costs of the pandemic. Rural hospitals, health clinics and community health centers also got an extra $11 billion to offset the losses they were facing due to the pandemic. But still, 17 rural hospitals have shut this year, adding to the 130 rural hospitals that have closed since 2010.
“We have many more rural hospitals that are at a financial risk and have been for quite some time,” Morris said, “The pandemic has not made any of that easier.”