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Listen: COVID Stresses Rural Hospitals Already ‘Teetering on the Brink’

When KHN Editor-in-Chief Elisabeth Rosenthal heard a sample of the voices that correspondent Sarah Jane Tribble brought back from her reporting trip to rural Kansas, Rosenthal said she knew the story needed to be told through audio.

That’s the genesis for “No Mercy,” season one of the podcast “Where It Hurts.” The series documents the fallout after Mercy Hospital closed in Fort Scott, Kansas.

Rosenthal and Tribble were featured on the latest episode of Crooked Media’s “America Dissected: Coronavirus.”

“When a rural hospital shuts down, it’s much more than health care that’s lost. It was really pulling the fabric of this town apart economically and socially,” Rosenthal said.

Fort Scott is a town of about 8,000, and more than 200 people — from janitorial staff to physicians — lost their jobs when the hospital closed.

“The trickle-down effect of a major anchor institution in a rural community closing is not just from the hospital jobs but from all the jobs supporting the hospital,” said Tribble, who grew up in southeastern Kansas and is the host of “No Mercy.”

The coronavirus pandemic is an added stress for rural hospitals, she said.

“COVID, despite what Donald Trump has said, is not a good moneymaker. It is a money loser for hospitals,” Rosenthal said. “If you’re teetering on the edge, as these hospitals were, a massive pandemic that requires a lot of high-intensity care, that will not get reimbursed that well, is going to push you over the edge.”

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