The Federation of American Hospitals is celebrating National Rural Hospital Week November 16 through 20 to highlight the unique and essential role hospitals play in rural communities across the United States. This year, FAH is highlighting the impact telehealth has had on rural communities, especially as our nation combats the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Rural America faces countless health care obstacles each and every day: fewer providers in less populated areas, technological and transportation accessibility issues and. The pandemic has put even more pressure on these rural communities and the hospitals that serve them.
More than 60 million Americans live in rural America – that’s one in five Americans relying on rural hospitals for timely and quality care. These facilities are often the sole comprehensive care provider in these communities and daily face everything from challenging geography, weather and distance to provide care for their patients.
Telehealth has been an incredibly valuable asset to health practitioners to combat the far distances and challenging geography facing rural communities. The coronavirus pandemic has made telehealth more common across the country and 83% of patients say they are likely to use telemedicine after COVID-19. That’s why rural broadband for small communities is a top priority for FAH. Ensuring every patient has access to quality telehealth services begins with having access to reliable internet connection.
Aside from rural hospitals’ unique geographic hardships, rural populations are generally older and from lower-income backgrounds, relying heavily on Medicare and Medicaid. These hospitals have a smaller volume of patients. And partly because of the high reliance on federal health programs with lower reimbursement levels, these facilities are financially vulnerable.
These rural hospitals are not only vital for their lifesaving and comprehensive health care services, but they are also the economic backbone of the communities they serve. Across the country, rural hospitals are often the largest or second-largest employer in their region, providing an invaluable fiscal boost to smaller cities and towns. If these hospitals are forced to close, entire communities could be left without health care providers and employment.
Since its inception, the Federation has advocated on behalf of rural hospitals, highlighting to legislators and policymakers the vital role these facilities play in providing quality care to rural communities across the United States. But there is more work to be done to protect these essential hospitals from future vulnerability.
This week and every week, rural hospitals work diligently to combat the unique challenges facing their communities, especially as our nation grapples with an unprecedented pandemic. These facilities are integral to the economic prosperity of rural populations and provide invaluable care to smaller communities across the country.