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Midwest Health Care Systems Feeling COVID's Weight


Thursday, October 8, 2020   

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Outbreaks of COVID-19 in Minnesota are showing no signs of ending soon.

The situation comes as rural health-care systems in the U.S. struggle to survive. Minnesota recently topped one-thousand new coronavirus cases for seven consecutive days, with a lot of that case growth coming outside the Twin Cities.

Brock Slabach, senior vice president of the National Rural Health Association, said a big concern in the U.S. right now is rural areas, where community spread has been hard to control. Making matters worse, it's been difficult for residents in these areas to access care.

"When someone is experiencing anxiety due to physical conditions that are very troubling, these delays can be very, very impactful and create lots of problems in their well-being," Slabach cautioned.

He said rural providers are seeing "fractures" being widened in these communities. He cites staffing, supplies, and lack of reimbursements as critical problems for hospitals.

Over the past 15 years, six rural hospitals and related clinics have closed in Minnesota. Nationally, 15 rural hospitals have closed in the U.S. this year.

Slabach said many systems in smaller communities face a severe cash crunch, leaving room for doubt about their future.

He pointed to a pause in elective surgeries at the start of the pandemic and slow reimbursement payments, while adding it will be hard for them to improve their outlook in the near future.

"This will exacerbate, I think, some of the problems that have already existed for a long time in rural communities," Slabach asserted.

He said part of the problem is treating COVID patients can be very expensive, placing an even greater financial burden on facilities struggling to stay afloat.

To get a handle on the immediate problem, he said increased testing and contact tracing in rural areas can help with case management, and potentially reduce demand for hospitalizations.

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