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The State of Critical Access Hospitals in 2021

critical access hospitals

Healthcare facilities that treat patients in rural parts of the country provide invaluable medical care to communities that need it most. Oftentimes, these communities are comprised of farmers, agricultural suppliers, small businesses, as well as family-run businesses.

Suffice it to say, when COVID-19 began to disrupt the entire healthcare industry, Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) took it especially hard. Not only do they deal with particular challenges that metropolitan facilities do not face, it took incredible leadership and resources to recover from the standstill caused by the pandemic.

We spoke with Mr. Joe Thomas, Senior Executive Consultant at Mission Search, to share how the pandemic impacted CAH across the country. 

Staffing, Staffing, Staffing

With the average CAH employing 140 people, having 25 or fewer acute care inpatient beds, staffing is always a unique obstacle to maneuver. 

“Staff level nursing, radiology technicians, and those who do bedside were probably the hardest hit area for critical access hospitals because the population in which they serve is a very rural community. When you’re raising a family in a small community, what we often see is that those children grow up and leave. When their children aren’t staying in that small community, it means that they are not growing in staff. And that means that many of these hospitals are requiring travel nursing services which can be a real drain on their budget.”

Halted Surgeries, Lost Revenues

Contrary to what you might think, CAH were not immediately impacted with COVID at the beginning of the pandemic, but they were hit financially because people avoided coming into hospitals, and surgeries were later shut down.

“That was the first financial impact CAH experienced, but it wasn’t until a few months later until things got much more dire. COVID cases started rising, their staff was getting sick, they weren’t getting coverage… all of these things came together and their cost expenditures to get staff nursing skyrocketed.” 

If it weren’t for the SBA loans, the government bailout, and reimbursements provided to CAH, it’s likely many would have closed their doors for good.

Riding the Wave

As the pandemic began to infiltrate all corners of the country, CAH started to ride the wave of closures, case numbers increasing, and growing demand for quality healthcare. 

“The East Coast hospitals were hit first, and then went into the Midwest and then the West Coast,” explains Mr. Thomas. “It put them all in a crippling situation. From an Interim Leadership perspective, we saw pretty much everything dry up before our eyes.”

New Challenges

“After all this has happened, I avoid using the word ‘normal’ altogether – because everything changes, nothing is permanent. Here we are in the aftermath of COVID, and the effect we’re seeing is that there are a lot of jobs now, and not enough available candidates.”

With relationships being the cornerstone of everything we do at Mission Search, Mr. Thomas explains how our approach to connecting with candidates, as well as our clients, remains the same.

“The biggest challenge is always finding the right person for the right opportunity. It’s like we’re always looking for that needle in the haystack, the needle hasn’t changed, but the haystack has gotten 10 times bigger.”

As the world continues to heal in the wake of COVID-19, new challenges and new situations are sure to arise in the healthcare industry as part of a dynamic and innovative industry. Mission Search will always be there for our partners, our clients, and our candidates and provide them with proven healthcare staffing solutions that work.

For more information, contact one of our recruiters today.

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