Pandemic threatens fragile rural health-care system in South Dakota

Pandemic threatens fragile rural health-care system in South Dakota

Editor’s note: This article is the second of three parts of a special report by South Dakota News Watch called “Small Towns, Big Challenges.” See the entire series at sdnewswatch.org.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a significant and unexpected financial burden on rural health-care providers who were already struggling to maintain hospitals and clinics that help keep small-town residents — and their communities — alive and well.

A slowdown in patient visits and drop in medical procedures due to fears of spreading the virus have led to a major loss of revenues for medical providers and health-care systems that serve rural areas. While the virus has not led to mass infections in small towns, the drop-off in activity and billable services has put stress on the already fragile financial state of many rural clinics, small hospitals and dental offices.

With the first wave of the pandemic possibly over, more safety measures in place and life returning somewhat to normal, most clinics and hospitals in rural South Dakota have headed off any imminent concern of closure.

Yet in a rural healthcare system made up of a patchwork of providers and hospital systems, the losses from the pandemic could curtail the hiring of healthcare workers, slow plans to expand services, and further restrict access to health care for hundreds of thousands of small-town and rural residents of the state.

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