Financial troubles at rural hospitals could devastate Missouri and Kansas’ small towns

MEMPHIS, Mo. (WDAF) — Much like rural communities all across the nation, Scotland County Hospital is essential to the survival of Memphis, Missouri.

“Between the school district and the hospital, those are really the economic and, in a way, the institutional anchors of the community,” said Dr. Randy Tobler, the CEO of Scotland County Hospital.

And many of the nation’s smaller hospitals are on life support.

“We are the victim of over-preparation and underutilization,” Tobler explained.

In a cruel twist of fate, Scotland County Hospital, and countless others like it, are facing financial ruin during the coronavirus pandemic.

The hospital has canceled nearly all of its elective surgery procedures to brace for an expected surge of COVID-19 patients. That surge, at least here, never happened.

“It’s sort of ironic. We want business, but we don’t want people to be ill,” Tobler said. “But we need business to keep the doors open, so it’s a tension. It’s a dialectic, It’s very difficult to deal with.”

The hospital has already instituted furloughs and layoffs to remain viable.

“And we’re looking at another round, and so if our domino falls, we’re afraid that it’ll launch a very bad cascade of more dominoes falling throughout, not only our community, but rural America. It’s everywhere,” he said.

This financial crisis for community hospitals is why the latest federal relief package included $75 billion for health care facilities.

“If we lose our community hospital or county hospital, it doesn’t come back when things get better,” U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, said “When the COVID virus goes away, it doesn’t mean that the hospitals having gone out of business in this time is going to be back in the future.”

Jake and Danielle Bair were the first couple to be diagnosed with COVID-19 in Scotland County. They said the failure of their local hospital would have disastrous effects on their community.

“I mean, it provides jobs for people, and it’s also a source of emergency care as well as daily health needs,” Danielle Bair said. “And people would have to travel about an hour to get care somewhere else.”