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Rural hospitals in Alabama struggling to survive

Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 4:31 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - A new report says 30 of Alabama’s 46 rural hospitals could close because of money problems.

The COVID pandemic only added to the problem and the demand for healthcare services in the state’s rural community.

Many of these rural hospitals are struggling to stay open. Some have gotten additional financial support, but they said more money will be needed to keep hospital doors open in rural areas.

Greene County Hospital is one of those struggling medical facilities. For the last five years, it has been losing $100,000 a month.

“It’s a struggle to provide healthcare in a community which has significant poverty and low income,” said Green County Health System President John Zippert.

Greene County is getting some financial assistance from electronic bingo money, a sales tax, and a new four-mill property tax set to go into effect October 1, but that won’t fix all their money problems.

The Alabama Hospital Association executive said as many as 15 hospitals were in financial trouble before the pandemic hit.

“82% of rural hospitals in Alabama were operating in the red and they had a negative operation margin of 10%,” said Don Williamson with Alabama Hospital Association.

A variety of factors contribute to the problem. The state’s wage index creates the lowest reimbursement rate for Medicare in the country. Alabama has a large population of uninsured people. Expanding Medicaid would help. The COVID pandemic has only added to the problem.

“The increased cost of care. Especially the increased cost of having to use traveling nurses. The cost for them to deal with this emergent situation is substantially higher,” Williamson said.

Greene County Hospital is hoping Governor Ivey will expand Medicaid to more people and the legislature will approve new gaming operations for additional revenue. If that doesn’t happen, how long can they last?

“We are struggling. We are going to keep struggling. You know I couldn’t put a date on it,” Zippert said.

Dr. Williamson said COVID funds have helped some hospitals with part of their money problems. He expects it will be January before they learn just how bad the financial situation will be for rural hospitals.

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