Rural hospitals continue to suffer financially due to coronavirus, even hospitals with few COVID-19 patients

April 27, 2020 | Bridge Magazine, In The Media

Hospital road signAs the COVID-19 pandemic forces hospitals to focus on essential procedures, reducing revenues at healthcare facilities across Michigan, many rural hospitals are struggling to stay open. In this Michigan Health Watch series, Bridge Magazine’s Ted Roelofs examines some of the ways the coronavirus response is squeezing operating margins for rural healthcare providers, even if they may not be treating many COVID-19 patients.

In 2019, before the COVID-19 crisis, 18 rural hospitals in Michigan were at risk of closing, threatening access to care for about one-quarter of Michigan’s rural communities. Long-term population loss, fewer revenue-generating procedures to help pay for expensive diagnostic tools, and costly staffing of 24-hour emergency rooms all contributed to precarious financial situations. Now, the March 10 Executive Order  that puts a hold on “non-essential” procedures is further compounding an already-tenuous revenue situation for rural – and some non-rural – health facilities.

There may be some relief on the horizon, with possible federal assistance for hospitals that treated COVID-19 patients and, importantly, a loosening of restrictions on elective and outpatient procedures says Marianne Udow-Phillips, founding executive director of the Center for Health and Research Transformation. “I think there’s going to be some ability to be doing some of these procedures soon,” she reports.

The Bridge article also examines how hospitals in other states are responding to the focus on COVID-19 patients and looks at the financial impact of the coronavirus caseload on larger hospitals in Michigan.