Marshfield Clinic CEO: COVID-19 will hit rural healthcare hard

Marshfield Clinic CEO: COVID-19 will hit rural healthcare hard

COVID-19 will hit rural health systems hard even though they may see fewer cases than those in more populated areas, Marshfield Clinic Health System CEO Dr. Susan Turney said Tuesday.

While confirmed cases are not as high in northern Wisconsin as the southern part of the state, rural providers have to prepare for the worst-case scenario, Turney said. They’ve also had to cut back on elective procedures and other care.

“When you combine those two items, it really hits rural healthcare,” she said on a Wisconsin Health News webinar.

That’s also because rural health systems tend to take care of sicker, older patients. And the disease burden is often greater in rural communities, with higher children, maternal and preventable death rates.

“If you put that all in the mix, you can see that the sustainability of our health system is highly dependent on what the federal and state government can do to help us during this transition,” she said.

Revenues for health systems are down 40 to 60 percent over the last month, she said.

Marshfield Clinic is toward the higher end of that range given that they’ve historically specialized in ambulatory care and have only recently moved toward hospitals.

At least 20 percent of Wisconsinites live in rural communities, Turney said. Health systems are often the major employer in small cities.

“We know that there are federal dollars and state dollars that will be allocated within our communities, within our health systems,” she said. “We have to make a strong plea that the rural communities in our state do not get ignored or are last on the list.”

Wisconsin has largely avoided the rural hospital closures that other states have faced, although there’s concern that the COVID-19 pandemic could alter that.

“Rural healthcare was in crisis before this pandemic occurred,” Turney said. Around half of rural hospitals were facing “extremely challenging financial situations” before the pandemic hit, she said.

More from the webinar will be available in Friday’s newsletter.

Wisconsin Health News is removing the password on all stories related to the coronavirus. For the latest developments follow us on Twitter at @wihealthnews or check out our website. For complete healthcare coverage, sign up for a free trial to our daily email newsletter. 


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