Rural hospitals in Kansas to get help with funding in wake of financial crisis

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Rural hospitals in Kansas that faced mounting financial struggles during the pandemic are getting more money to provide critical care to patients.

Last month, the state has taken one of its first steps in securing new sources of funding to help rural hospitals, enacting the Rural Emergency Hospital Act. Governor Laura Kelly held a ceremonial signing for the bill, House Bill 2208, on Thursday.

The bill aims to increase access to health care and mental health services, especially in rural communities, where options are limited.

“It protects our rural hospitals and it increases access to telemedicine. Each initiative will benefit Kansans long after the pandemic is over,” Kelly said.

Larry VanDerWege, CEO of Lindsborg Community Hospital in McPherson County, detailed the long list of challenges rural hospitals faced during the pandemic. He said reduced patient volumes, decreased reimbursements, and increased expenses, are among just some of the issues that the hospitals encounter.

“This important policy solution that continues the quality standards that patients deserve and provides a critical lifeline to some of our state’s most vulnerable hospitals,” he said.

The obstacles led to increasing financial burdens for hospitals across the state.

According to the American Hospital Association, hospitals could lose billions of dollars in revenue in 2021. Those dollars are used to pay for labor and supplies to provide care to patients.

To manage costs, the bill also allows rural hospitals to certify under the Rural Emergency Hospital designation. The designation allows rural hospitals to provide 24/7 emergency and outpatient services without having to give inpatient care.

This could allow them to lower the number of mandated beds in these facilities and control expenses.

“They will have relationships with other hospitals throughout the state to be able to transfer individuals that need more acute care services,” Chad Austin, President of the Kansas Hospital Association, explained.

Austin said there are still discussions in the federal government about how much money rural hospitals will be eligible for, which would be given in the form of stipends and reimbursements for primary care services.

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