By Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas
Hiding in the shadows cast by big city outbreaks, the novel coronavirus has now quickly spread to more than 1,000 rural communities. This pandemic’s sweep of our nation’s prairies and plains comes as hundreds of rural hospitals are on the verge of closure, potentially leaving tens of thousands of people without access to local emergency health services during the contagion’s peak and permanently devastating rural economies.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, almost half of all rural hospitals were operating at a financial loss. In fact, over the past decade, 128 rural hospitals shut down as a result of financial pressure, and 400 were at risk of closing prior to the pandemic, according to the National Rural Health Association.
Today, much like small businesses across the country, hospitals have been asked to halt all nonemergency services. This abrupt termination of core services and key revenue streams in rural communities is forcing hospitals to forgo 60% to 80% of their revenue.
Rural Americans served by these hospitals are disproportionately old, poor, and sick, meaning that when the surge hits these rural communities, the mortality rates will likely be disproportionately high. These abandoned healthcare refuges only add to the many miles between life and death situations for the families who feed and fuel the rest of our country.
Our nation’s leaders cannot leave rural America without resources to combat this pandemic. It is essential that these facilities, critical in the fight against COVID-19, can access the Paycheck Protection Program. This temporary and targeted assistance will be a lifeline to healthcare professionals and hospitals, which, in many cases, are the largest employers in the community. As we move forward, relief and recovery packages must provide equitable support for rural communities and their providers to do what they do best — take care of rural Americans.