Rural hospitals shut out of stimulus loans face financial crisis

“Many of these hospitals are the sole provider for health needs in their community and their closure would leave wide areas of America with even greater access to care issues than ever before, which we simply cannot risk during this pandemic,” nine senators wrote in a letter to leadership.

For years, rural health providers have grappled with low patient volumes, staffing shortages and thin operating margins. Over 120 rural hospitals shuttered in the past decade, and another 1 in 4 were considered a high-risk for closure even before the pandemic hit. Now, the widespread cancellation of pricey elective surgeries, which make up the bulk of hospitals’ revenue, have made their finances all the more precarious.

Hospitals on Friday began receiving the first tranche of a separate $100 billion rescue fund dedicated to health care providers, but rural health providers are also competing with larger and more politically connected urban systems for funding. Rural health providers said this funding will help, but it won’t sustain them for very long.

“It was a desperately needed lifeline, but they’re still treading water out there,” said Maggie Elehwany, head of government affairs for the National Rural Health Association. “We need more assistance to keep them afloat and that makes it all the more important to let them access the SBA provisions.”

Rural providers have flooded the Hill with requests to make the forgivable loans available to them as congressional leadership grapple approving more money for the newly created — and almost exhausted — $350 billion program.

Hill aides and hospitals say it’s unclear if the Small Business Administration has the authority to make the change on its own. The agency and the Treasury Department, which is helping SBA oversee the program, didn’t return a request for comment.

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