Hospitals far from urban centers have been hurting but are targeted for extra resources due to the latest pandemic relief bill.
CHRISTIAN BRYANT: A new report from the Inspector General for Health and Human Services found that many hospitals across the country faced a range of challenges during this pandemic, including financial instability. And rural hospitals were hit the hardest. The newest economic stimulus bill includes much needed money for rural hospitals that have continued to serve their communities. National reporter Chloe Nordquist explains how the additional funding will help.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: It's an all too familiar somber sight. Plastic walls and other makeshift areas created on the fly in hospitals across the country as they care for patients with COVID-19. These are images from Lincoln Health, a rural hospital between Kansas and Denver, Colorado.
KEVIN STANSBURY: Where you live shouldn't determine if you live. I saw an older, poorer, sicker population. When you look at any of the statistics that come out of CDC, rural populations tend to have higher mortality rates, they tend to have lower life expectancy, they tend to have a higher frequency of chronic diseases.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: Kevin Stansbury is the CEO of Lincoln Health. He says hospitals have not only been hit hard with the virus, but the financial impacts as well.
KEVIN STANSBURY: I'm a rural hospital CEO. And any rural hospital CEO in the country is nervous about keeping their doors open. That's just our reality.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: 17 rural hospitals across the US closed in the first three quarters of 2020, according to stats from the American Hospital Association.
CARRIE COCHRAN-MCCLAIN: Our estimate done by the Charter Center for Rural Health has 453 rural hospitals vulnerable to closure-- the vast majority of those being in the Southeast.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: Carrie Cochran-McClain is with the National Rural Health Association.
CARRIE COCHRAN-MCCLAIN: 70, 75% of rural hospitals' revenue comes from outpatient services on average. So if you look at having to suspend that revenue source for two, to four, and up to six months, that alone can have a big impact on facilities.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: Luckily, rural areas have received some help through the CARES Act last year, and now money on the way through the new stimulus bill.
CARRIE COCHRAN-MCCLAIN: We don't know yet what the parameters around that funding will look like. There have been a lot of bills with a lot in them. And so I think trying to kind of track on all of that is a lot for any kind of provider that is working day to day.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: It's not easy to figure out.
JODI SCHMIDT: We're really trying to understand exactly what the opportunities are within the new stimulus bill.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: Jodi Schmidt is the executive director of the University of Kansas Health System Care Collaborative.
JODI SCHMIDT: Here in Kansas we are second only to Texas in terms of the number of rural hospitals that are financial risk.
KEVIN STANSBURY: I've not seen any clear guidance yet on what that takes to qualify for that money. We're certainly going to try to qualify for it, if we do.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: As rural hospitals wait for more guidance on if and how to get additional funding, many are working to keep spikes in COVID-19 from happening again. For Lincoln Health, that looks like telehealth visits reminding people to social distance and getting those in the community vaccinated. Kevin says they're reaching about 55% immune in the community-- a combination of those fully vaccinated, and those who have had the disease and recovered.
KEVIN STANSBURY: We've seen a real drop. It's really gratifying to see the community come together.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: I'm Chloe Nordquist, reporting.
CHRISTIAN BRYANT: There's a meme that circulated earlier in the pandemic when kids started distance learning. Here's the picture, and the caption says-- When you're five years old and it's your first day of school ever, and they expect you to know how to read, type, and send emails. Little mama is going through it, right? But much like adults, kids kind of need a break too. Chloe Nordquist is back, once more, for a look at how more states are considering laws to give children a mental health break from school.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: It's no secret that remote learning and isolation are tough on kids.
CHRIS ROGERS: We know that the routine of a school day is exceedingly important for kids, for developing minds.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: And it's impacting their mental health. The CDC says children's mental health related emergency department visits have increased since last March. Compared with 2019, ED visits increased 24% for five to 11-year-olds, and 31% with 12 to 17-year-olds in 2020.
ALISON STEIER: Remote learning has been an adjustment for everyone. That many families are under a great deal more stress--
CHLOE NORDQUIST: Alison Steier is the vice president of mental health services at Southwest Human Development in Arizona. Arizona and Utah have proposed laws to provide mental health days for kids. This would add mental and behavioral health to the reason students can be absent, just like a sick day.
ALISON STEIER: There is, in my view, parity with physical illness.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: Laws like this have already been passed in Oregon, Maine, Colorado, and Virginia.
ALISON STEIER: You have to look at it in two ways. One is, is it a child who has sort of a chronic struggle? And then the question is, does a break from school make sense? Children of all ages can experience stress that can be too much. And in those cases, I really think that taking a break is a good idea and a good lesson for children-- about taking care of their own mental health. It's not a good idea to wait until you're over the edge.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: Alison says the next step is to figure out what a mental health day looks like.
ALISON STEIER: And taking this day to replenish myself. And so I'm going to do something that really feeds me, and really gives me a feeling of having gotten a break.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: The American Academy of Pediatrics says 14% of parents reported worsening behavioral health for their children since March 2020. And 27% reported worsening mental health for themselves.
CHRIS ROGERS: Most schools, most teachers, most principals, guidance counselors understand the stresses that our kids are under. They're very willing to have them take time off, to have some assignments forgiven. And so I would say, that message that your mental health is more important than your GPA is paramount importance.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: Dr. Chris Rogers is a child psychiatry specialist.
CHRIS ROGERS: We know that the best way to help a child who is struggling with mental illness is to start the conversation yourself.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: And there are some signs you can look for. Dr. Rogers says, look out for when kids aren't interested in social activity, and when they stop taking care of themselves-- such as not showering or brushing their teeth.
CHRIS ROGERS: Finding ways to get kids back into school, finding safe ways to encourage them to be able to have some social contacts are key steps in recovery.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: The CDC recommends social contact activities like reaching out to family and friends on the phone or over video chat, and writing cards to family members who may not be able to visit. As families continue to look for a balance between pandemic safety and mental health, Alison says the fact that states are considering such laws is a step in the right direction.
ALISON STEIER: Recognizing that children can suffer emotionally, or can be overtaxed, overstressed is a very good thing for our country.
CHLOE NORDQUIST: I'm Chloe Nordquist, reporting.
CHRISTIAN BRYANT: That's it for us, gang. As always, thanks for watching. We'll be back for more In The Loop tomorrow. Same time, same place. Top stories from Newsy are headed your way, right now.