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Rural hospitals brace for financial impact of coronavirus pandemic

The pandemic has killed more than 33,000 Americans as it sweeps across the country, and health experts worry that COVID-19 may kill some rural hospitals too.

Posted: Apr 18, 2020 8:41 AM

(ALBANY, Mo.) The president of Missouri's Hospital Association says even with the federal stimulus money, it's only a matter of days before hospitals across the state run out of money.

The pandemic has killed more than 33,000 Americans as it sweeps across the country, and health experts worry that COVID-19 may kill some rural hospitals too.

"Hundreds of rural hospitals have closed in the last 10 years and that's a trend that seems to be getting worse before the COVID pandemic came about,"  Dr. Jon Doolittle, president Mosaic Medical Center, Albany said. "Especially in a rural area, it very much has a family feel and a family dynamic and I think that comes through in the quality and the type of care and interactions we have here. So in times like this we are working hard to take care of each other and keep that family afloat." 

Statewide hospitals are losing $32 million a day.  

"Checking the math here, that's close to a billion dollars a month," Doolittle said. 

Elective procedures, routine care, normal emergency medicine, all put on hold to prepare for a surge in coronavirus cases.

"That's to help preserve personal protective equipment, that's to make sure we have capacity elsewhere, it's retraining folks," Doolittle said.

Less patients equals less money and hospitals, for better or worse, are businesses with bottom lines.

"We have voluntarily and intentionally stopped doing a lot of what would normally be our day's work as a Missouri hospital," Doolittle said. 

Before the pandemic, nearly half of the country's rural hospitals were operating in the red. Now as rural hospitals brace for COVID-19's impact, the normal flow of patients, once a thin stream of revenue, is now slowed to a drip.

"Without some really significant and extraordinary help, I think you're going to see hundreds more rural hospitals following that trend we've seen for the last decade," Doolittle said.  

Doolittle says that while Albany also operates on a slim margin, it's fortunate because the hospital is backed by the entire Mosaic system. 

"We could potentially take patients from urban and suburban areas and larger community hospitals and really fill this place with those folks and in return get some help that is needed maybe with our local residents who need intensive care," Doolittle said. 

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