Rural hospitals have been and always will be a critical part of the nation’s health care delivery system. For nearly one-in-five Americans, they offer a caring and compassionate lifeline for individuals and families who would have few health care options otherwise.
During the past two years, rural care providers have met the severe obstacles posed by the pandemic with inspiring levels of resourcefulness and perseverance, never wavering from their trusted role as cornerstones of their communities.
However, even apart from the pandemic, rural providers face unique challenges. These include low patient volumes, geographic isolation, and attracting and retaining a sufficient workforce. In addition, rural hospitals and health systems often lack access to capital that helps fund development of new models of care, and they are often more susceptible to the effects of economic changes or downturns in their communities.
The AHA has worked hard to provide rural caregivers and hospitals with the critical resources and support they need to continue to serve their communities and the patients who depend on them. We have obtained substantial financial relief in Congress through multiple legislative measures over the past two years. In addition, we gained significant regulatory relief on your behalf, cutting through the red tape that allowed you to respond quickly and decisively to the needs of your communities during emergencies related to COVID spikes and surges.
There has been advancement on other important fronts as well, including:
- Securing more than $10 billion in COVID-19 Provider Relief Funds (through the CARES Act) specifically targeted to rural providers. Separately, we fought for and gained an additional $8.5 billion in emergency rural relief funds through the American Rescue Plan Act. These critical dollars were in addition to the billions released to all hospitals and providers through general PRF distributions.
- Procuring major new investments in workforce in The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. This included 1,000 new residency slots that will start becoming available this fall with a priority on placements in the health professional shortage areas that are common in rural communities, as well as more funding for the National Health Service Corps, the Nurse Corps and behavioral health workforce training.
- Establishing a Rural Emergency Hospital Medicare designation in the same legislation so hospitals can continue to offer essential emergency and observation services to their communities without having to provide inpatient services.
- Increasing the use of telehealth services, especially important to rural areas that lack or have little access to them. Since the start of the public health emergency, regulatory waivers have helped rural providers deliver high quality care, and some flexibilities have been made permanent for mental health visits for certain providers.
- Attaining $2 billion in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to support broadband service in rural areas.
But we know there are many challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Where we’ve been and where we need to go now will be top of mind next week at our 2022 Rural Health Care Leadership Conference.
We’ll connect top practitioners and thinkers with more than 1,000 rural health care leaders and trustees to examine the pandemic’s impact on rural hospitals and their communities and present ideas to help transform care delivery models and business practices.
We’ll have a deep-dive on our 2022 Rural Advocacy Agenda, which focuses on legislative and regulatory priorities such as bolstering the workforce, ensuring fair and adequate reimbursement, and supporting connected care by increased investment in telehealth and expanding broadband service.
We’ll have an opportunity to connect and reconnect with colleagues and learn from each other and leaders in the field.
And we’ll celebrate the tremendous difference rural providers make in service to their communities, including honoring this year’s Rural Hospital Leadership Award winner, Sky Lakes Medical Center in Klamath Falls, Ore.
Rural providers across the nation are caring for and lifting up their communities every single day. They are truly indispensable to the patients they serve, and we look forward to continuing to work together with our rural partners to advance health in America.