The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on hospitals across the United States, but has hit rural hospitals particularly hard as they grapple with labor shortages, salary increases and patient volumes, according to several officials. rural health.
At the same time, the pandemic has also shown what changes need to be made to rural health care, they say. Becker spoke with three rural health leaders about the financial challenges they faced this year.
Editor’s Note: Answers have been edited slightly for style and clarity.
What financial challenges have this year brought that are unique to rural hospitals?
Chris Engelhardt, Director of Finance for MyMichigan Medical Centers in Gladwin and West Branch: Endurance and adaptation are the words that come to mind the most for 2021. MyMichigan Health’s rural hospitals have had to adapt quickly to changing environments throughout the year. Whether it’s postponing or canceling elective procedures impacting revenues, dealing with labor shortages and ensuring competitive wages during a period of high volatility, which increases our costs.
Lisa Carlson, CFO of Adena Health System of Chillicothe, Ohio: All healthcare has workforce challenges. However, for rural providers, the challenges are increased by national shortages and the resulting increase in wage rates, while paying an additional premium for staff to live or move to a rural area.
Patrick Sharp, CEO of Mercy Hospital in Durango, Colorado: The Great Resignation – also known as the Big Quit – created unprecedented financial challenges. We have seen many hospital professionals retire or leave the healthcare industry during the pandemic due to fatigue, stress, public opinion and incredibly hard work. At the same time, national resources such as staffing agencies or mobile nurses have not been as readily available as they might have been in “non-pandemic” times. Mercy Hospital and Centura Health have responded to these workforce challenges by investing more than $ 200 million in compensation and benefits for our caregivers over the past 12 months. Changes to salaries and benefits include increased tuition reimbursement, PTO withdrawals, housing allowances, connection bonus changes, and market-based bonuses and adjustments.
What has COVID shed light on in relation to rural health care?
Mr. Engelhardt: COVID has shone the spotlight on the health gap between urban and rural communities. Lower vaccination rates in the population and multiple co-morbidities being more common in the population put pressure on medical centers as volumes sometimes approach capacity. Providing care close to home is key to tackling this trend. Community education and outreach, the expansion of virtual care, access to specialists close to home, and home care delivery models are needed to ensure that we not only maintain health, but that we let’s create healthy communities together.
Ms. Carlson: We will need to have more flexibility in areas of non-direct patient care in scheduling and working from home options. This additional geographic distribution of the workforce will create new challenges for the development of culture and leadership. The importance of emergency care and telemedicine in the basic delivery model going forward was also highlighted.
Mr. Sharp: COVID-19 has proven the benefit of being part of a larger, well-managed health system. Resources, whether they are staff, ventilators, beds or other essential supplies, are readily available and enable our teams to ensure that the community receives the best possible care. Our connected ecosystem of 17 hospitals can adapt to meet the daily challenges of COVID-19, while also caring for the wave of patients with higher acuity. It is a Centura commitment that I see unfolding every day inside Mercy and we are grateful for this support.