During this pandemic, rural hospitals face good and bad news. The good news is that rural areas of Texas have largely done well during this crisis. They have “avoided some of the most dire projections around bed capacity, vents, deaths," said John Henderson, president of the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals. The bad news is rural hospitals are still facing many financial challenges.
Texas leads the nation in rural hospital closures, putting residents and communities in a dangerous position. According to research done by TORCH, in some parts of Texas, people live 75 miles away from the nearest hospital. Over the past decade, more than 70 rural hospitals have closed nationally, and 27 have closed in Texas.
These closures have created an obstacle for Texas families. This issue has a long and complex history, but COVID-19 has only put more pressure on these facilities. Hospitals rely on elective procedures to stay afloat. This has created a real issue as many patients have put off elective surgeries or routine checkups.
The silver lining for these hospitals is that they received considerable federal funding from the CARES Act. Texas’ rural hospitals received $643 million, but the money won’t last forever. “Early on, I was really worried about another wave of rural hospital closures — Texas has had 27 in 22 communities since 2010, double any other state, so we were hurting before the crisis," Henderson said. "I think our hospitals will survive the summer. But they still have challenges and vulnerabilities.”
Along with these financial struggles, rural Texas hospitals, like many nationally, have had trouble getting everything they need for this pandemic. Dr. Timothy Benton of the Texas Tech University Health and Science Center said it’s been hard on rural hospitals. “It’s sometimes difficult to get resources anyway, in this pandemic, as you’ve heard or know of, and it’s even more difficult for them in rural places to get resources, whether it be protective equipment or ability to get tests, or a lot of times rural places don’t have adequate equipment,” he said.
Rural areas of our nation, and of our massive state, don’t get the attention that large urban areas do. Their medical needs are something we cannot lose sight of.
As the state and federal government work to continue to pick up the pieces of our post-pandemic economy, the hospitals serving our rural communities must continue to get the attention and resources they need to serve the people who need them.