Help On The Way For Illinois’ Rural Hospitals

Mar 31, 2020

Pana Community Hospital – about an hour south east of Springfield – is preparing to treat patients sick with COVID-19. But, like many of the rural hospitals around Illinois, it’s also wrestling with financial challenges brought on by the pandemic.

The hospital has had to stop elective and non-emergency procedures. Its physicians are also seeing fewer patients for routine follow-up and screening, said its president and CEO Trina Casner.

The move is saving masks, gowns and other protective equipment, keeping people out of the hospital and the hospital beds available. But it also means the hospital is bringing in less money.

Casner said Pana Community Hospital has 25 beds and employs more than 180 people. She said one of the challenges now is keeping the healthcare workers employed and paid as they prepare for a surge in COVID-19 patients.

“It's important that if there's a surge that we have our staff members available to us,” she said. “So we really don't necessarily want to either have to do a layoff or some sort of furlough at this point, so that they're available.”

Casner said measures in the $2 trillion federal aid package – such as advancing Medicare payments, offering small business loans and relaxing rules on telemedicine visits – will help keep the them afloat.

Pat Schou leads the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network – a group of 51 hospitals, including the hospital in Pana, that serve many Medicare patients.

She said hospitals in her group are facing a similar situation.

“If you don't have much business, and you got to pay employees, and in our case, they have to pay people to be ready,” Schou said. “And they still have to take care of some people that come in [to the emergency room] … So it will help bridge the gap for them.”

Schou said the rural hospitals serve thousands of people, and will provide care for them during this public health crisis. She also said the hospitals could be a resource if those in cities become overwhelmed with patients.

“They can take some of those patients a larger facility can’t take anymore,” she said. “It’s a partner to these larger facilities.”