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COVID-19’s Long Shadow Over Rural Health

August 19, 2022

COVID-19 has posed new challenges for the nation’s rural hospitals that could cast a “long shadow” that lingers beyond the pandemic, according to a new report.

A new survey from The Chartis Group evaluates the staffing shortages and pressures that are straining rural health care.

“As rural health care providers and advocates consider improving the stability of the rural health safety net in the near term, significant consideration needs to be given to easing the disruption caused by staffing shortages and turnover,” the report said.

Among the key takeaways:

  • Addressing hesitancy:  The rural vaccination rate is about 51 percent, while the urban vaccination rate is 75 percent, according to the CDC. The report notes that “vaccine hesitancy and resistance was prevalent across the rural health safety net.”
  • Existing challenges:  More than 60 percent of health care professional shortage areas are in rural areas.
  • Staffing crunch:  About 53 percent of respondents said their use of travel nurses had increased significantly during the pandemic. About 70 percent of respondents had turned to sign-on bonuses to be more competitive and recruit staff. About 36 percent reported that nurse staffing shortages prevented their facility from admitting patients in the last 60 days.
  • Reasons for turnover:  The top reasons for staff turnover were more lucrative opportunities at staffing agencies, followed by opportunities at other locations, pandemic-related burnout, and early retirement.
  • Quotable:  “These results tell us that addressing shortages or finding more economical solutions will be a prominent factor in how care is delivered on a day-to-day basis,” the report said.

HAP continues to advocate for resources to support Pennsylvania’s rural hospitals and communities. This includes advocating for the Rural Health Model, which provides rural hospitals with predictable revenue sources and encourages innovation in care.

The Chartis survey is available to review online.