In the first part of our conversation with Alan Morgan, CEO of National Rural Health Association, he painted a picture of how the current COVID-19 crisis impacts rural providers.
He also shared opinions on telehealth and key policies he believes can help rural providers remain viable during this crisis.
Part two of our conversation continues the telehealth discussion and dives into a few of the positive COVID-19 stories he has seen out of the rural healthcare market. In closing, Morgan provides further suggestions on how rural providers can work side-by-side with NRHA and other healthcare organizations to make it through these trying times.
MH: What kind of stories are you hearing coming out of rural communities that may benefit the general population – rural and urban?
AM: One thing that has popped up from facilities addressing the surge is quickly bringing all of their clinical staff up to practice at the top of their licensure. Making sure that clinical staff move outside of their normal boxes has helped. I’ve also seen that a clear and concise communication strategy with their community has been very helpful.
I think the advancements in telehealth and telehealth applications will expand well beyond this crisis. I think everyone feels bad about finding good things in such a bad situation, but utilization of telehealth will be a good thing that comes out of this. Plus, using all clinical staff to their full capacity will be a huge benefit as well.
MH: Have you heard any stories about rural healthcare providers banding together as a community to help each other out?
It has been great to hear about the informal collaboration among small rural hospitals in some states. In particular, there are stories coming out of Texas – how hospitals have shared PPE and ventilators with other Texas hospitals. I think the informal work of that is great. Hospitals are sharing resources and realizing that when they have a need, they’re able to work together.
MH: Are you hearing about any clinical documentation issues that have become problematic with the influx of COVID-19 patients in rural surge areas?
AM: As of right now, there are more than 36,000 COVID-19 cases in rural counties. So more than 80 percent of rural counties have COVID patients. To that point, we are tracking the counties that are in surge – when they present themselves. That’s part of the issue that we are trying to help with consultation – how do you code, bill, etc., in regard to this.
The problems with financing when you’ve eliminated your outpatient elective procedures can be easily insurmountable. Once you are in a surge, the additional cost of overtime and immense additional cost of supplies – there is a lot of additional cost of treating these patients that you wouldn’t normally have.
MH: What kind of additional COVID-19 resources are NRHA offering its members right now?
AM: We are about to launch our rural COVID-19 resource center. We have brought on two subject matter experts—one in finance, the other in supplies.
Currently, as members contact us about issues, concerns, and needs, we are trying on a case-by-case basis to link them to resources and expertise. We want to make sure we are able to connect the resources our members need with the resources available. There’s a huge need for finance right now. For example, how do you apply for grants, technical needs, bills on cost reports, etc.? The other component is PPE, medical supplies, and testing accessibility.
MH: In terms of healthcare disaster preparedness, how can we use this current situation to set strategies moving forward?
AM: Access to PPE – that system is broken. There has to be some coherent strategy moving forward. The whole concept of advanced staff planning – when you get to the potential of staff getting infected and having to go offline – that is a huge issue people will have to address moving forward.
MH: Are rural hospitals and other decision-makers thinking ahead in terms of planning for strategies that have shown to be effective in these scenarios –promoting interoperability, for instance – once this is over?
AM: It’s such a good, timely question. Once we get through this, how do we build a sustainable health system?
This crisis has highlighted the lack of investment and needs for data systems that we can easily assess to deliver high quality in rural American healthcare. We are already talking about the surge in winter. As we brace ourselves for that, it is going to mandate that more focus and funding go towards these discussions.
The issues around interoperability, funding, capacity, and utilization of data tracking are coming to the forefront. The discussions are beginning now, but I think it’s going to be a focal point once we are through this.
From an uptick in rural hospital closures to workforce shortages, the need to build more sustainability into the rural healthcare system is a priority for organizations like NRHA. As one of their partners, MEDHOST works closely with NRHA and the providers they support to help bring awareness to the needs of rural providers.
To learn more about how MEDHOST develops services and solutions tailored to meet the needs of rural and community hospitals, email email@example.com or call 1.800.383.6278.