Rural hospitals being strained by COVID-19 patients

Rural hospitals hit hard by pandemic

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Alabama rural hospitals are facing tough times. The Alabama Hospital Association said numbers were in financial trouble before the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with CARES funding many are facing financial strain.

At the beginning of March Pickens County Hospital closed its doors because of declining patients and increasing demands. Eight months later, the pandemic has not made life easier for rural hospitals.

“We were looking at very high percentages of rural hospitals in trouble. In fact 87% of rural hospitals were operating in the red,” said Dr. Don Williamson, executive director of the Alabama Hospital Association.

In Clanton, St. Vincent’s Chilton Hospital continues to do all it can to meet the increasing COVID patient demands while providing healthcare services to the community.

“As well as being a part of a large health system. Their access to shared resources within our health system help our rural facilities as opposed to a stand alone,” said Chris Moore, with Ascension St. Vincent’s Health System.

It’s a plus to Ascension St. Vincent’s Health System for three rural hospitals to share those resources. But rural hospitals, like all medical facilities in the state, are facing the struggle to find enough people to meet the demands being placed on them.

“We are doing a lot of creative things for our staff to make sure they are feeling more supportive than ever before,” Moore said.

Williamson said for other rural hospitals, staffing is a serious problem.

“They are all concerned about their staffing issues and how they may have to look at reducing elective procedures--not because they don’t have the beds, but because they don’t have the staff,” Williamson said.

Another issue is that the extension on funding for uncompensated patients a part of the Affordable Care Act is set to expire on December 11th. If it does, then even more financial pressure will be put on some rural hospitals next year.

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