SLC Regional Resource | June 2021

Rural Hospitals During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Nick Bowman

Rural hospitals are a vital part of the U.S. healthcare sector and provide strong economic impacts. These healthcare facilities, which have an average of 25 inpatient beds, differ from urban hospitals in several ways. Many rural hospitals serve as the first point of care, sending patients to larger hospitals with more staff and medical equipment for specialized treatment. Due to their larger size and budgets, urban hospitals can offer a more comprehensive array of services. However, many rural hospitals perform just as well as urban hospitals and, in some cases, even outperform them.

Due to several factors, rural hospitals have struggled financially for years; 180 of them have closed since January 2005, with most closures in the South.* The reasons behind these closures include decreasing rural populations, changing federal healthcare regulations, and geographic isolation. A February 2019 report from Navigant, a Chicago-based consulting firm, found that 21 percent of U.S. rural hospitals were at high risk of closing unless their finances improve.

Since the emergence of COVID-19, Southern states have taken numerous measures in response to the pandemic. This SLC Regional Resource provides a summary of important state-level legislation related to rural hospitals and rural healthcare enacted between January 2020 and April 2021.


* For more on these issues, please see the November 2019 SLC Regional Resource, Rural Hospitals: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow.