Seventy-six of Iowa’s 82 critical access hospitals ended the last fiscal year with negative operating margins, an IowaWatch analysis of their most recently reported financial data shows. Iowa’s situation falls in line with a national report that shows 46% of the nation’s rural hospitals are working with a negative operating margin.
One by one, COVID-19 outbreaks popped up in April and May at meatpacking plants across the country, fanning fears that the infectious coronavirus could spread rapidly into rural states. Plants closed temporarily in small metro areas like Waterloo, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but also smaller Iowa towns like Tama, Columbus Junction and Perry.
Leaders at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center in Storm Lake, a northwest Iowa town of 10,500 with a Tyson Foods packing plant, knew their time would come. “We just didn’t know to what degree,” Rob Colerick, the hospital CEO and administrator, said. “I mean, you saw it in Columbus Junction. You saw it in Waterloo.
This story is part of a nationwide collaboration of Institute for Nonprofit News members examining the effect COVID-19 is having on rural health care. IowaWatch reporting in this project was made possible by support from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.
Hurricane Laura drilled Louisiana before moving north in late August, causing widespread destruction and death behind. A few weeks later, so many storms had been reported that the National Hurricane Center ran out of names and had to dip into the Greek alphabet for one striking the Texas coast. A little more than two weeks earlier, a straight-line derecho had pounded several Midwest U.S. states, hitting Iowa particularly hard with property damage, crop destruction and death. A massive storm ripped up portions of southwest Georgia in April.
Quicker planning. Working together as networks. Focused staff deployment. The COVID-19 pandemic is giving hospital administrators and their healthcare providers ample opportunity in real time to learn new best practices to delivering medical care.
The quick fixes they’ve tried since the pandemic broke have included more reliance on telemedicine, communicating frequently with the public and an old standard: getting government money. This story is part of a nationwide collaboration of Institute for Nonprofit News members examining the effect COVID-19 is having on rural health care.
UPDATED: The appropriations bill Congress sent to President Donald Trump Sept. 30 to keep the federal government open through Dec. 11 includes a section giving hospitals one year, instead of the current three months, to start paying back all of the accelerated Medicare payments they received in the spring.