SHELBY COUNTY, Ala. (WBMA) — As the pandemic continues, 30 of Alabama's 46 rural hospitals are at immediate or high risk of closing. ABC 33/40 is taking a look at what needs to be done to keep them afloat.
The Alabama Hospital Association says when it comes to funding, finances are thin and margins were thing before the pandemic started. The hope right now is to find funding to make sure hospitals, rural and urban, can keep their doors open.
“There are hospitals that are literally going to run through their resources without some additional assistance. Resources they’ve built up, in some cases, over decades,” says President of the Alabama Hospital Association, Dr. Don Williamson says.
Rural hospitals are in trouble, and Danne Howard, the association’s deputy director says the same.
“Federal support and financial assistance has been the lifesaver in some of the funding that has come through, but there were a lot of restraints on all hospitals and how they could and could not use their money,” she says.
Howard says the time has come to reach out to the state.
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“We did meet with the governor’s office and we’re continuing to have conversations with the governor’s office and legislative leadership. We have not proposed a piece of legislation but we were asking for the legislature and the governor to put in a call for this special session, an appropriation from the rescue fund for healthcare,” she says.
The association is asking for consideration for an appropriation of funds so hospitals can stay afloat until they can figure out other options.
84% of rural hospitals were in the red before the pandemic started, Howard says.
“It’s a matter of what you can and what you can’t do in the next 6 months about funding. They are fragile. I’m not willing to say any one is going to close, but it might be that some have to scale back services even more than what they had scaled back already,” she says.
Howard is hoping for stability in healthcare reimbursement and ways to help low-income citizens.
"Alabama’s hospitals receive the lowest Medicare reimbursement than any other state in the nation. We need to look at other ways to provide health insurance for our uninsured, Medicaid expansion— whatever you want to call it,” she says.
On top of funding shortages, many rural hospitals may be dealing with ICU staff shortages.
ICU staff is a special skilled staff, often times made up of the same people who work in operating rooms, according to AHA Deputy Director Danne Howard.