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April 02, 2020

House Democrats Ask the Coronavirus Taskforce about Rural Preparedness

Credit: The Daily Yonder, Bryce Oates

A group of Democratic members of Congress is urging the White House Coronavirus Taskforce to outline a contingency plan for rural communities.

In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence who heads the taskforce, 22 Democratic representatives expressed concerns about whether rural health care providers can “cope with a potential surge of positive Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases.”

The members of Congress asked to see White House’s COVID-19 plan for rural America. “It is essential for our rural hospitals and all rural medical facilities to have certainty that in the case of an overflow of patients, the federal government will be ready to provide immediate assistance,” the representatives wrote.

The group of legislators is calling for the White House to answer the following questions by April 6:

Does the taskforce have a plan for when rural hospitals become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients?

Will the administration instruct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to develop patient surge protections?

As rural hospitals stretch their resources and increase bed capacity, how can the taskforce support staffing the additional beds?

How will the taskforce ensure supplies produced under the Defense Production Act are delivered to both urban centers and rural areas?

The Army Corps of Engineers stated its intent to use dormitories, hotels, and convention centers as emergency treatment centers. Is there a plan for rural areas that do not have these facilities?

The letter says the rural emergency plan should use resources from across the federal government, including medical personnel and facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs, logistical capabilities of  Department of Defense, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) resources.

The group of legislators explained that rural hospitals were experiencing challenges in health care access and workforce capacity before the COVID-19 outbreak.

“On average, rural Americans seeking health care travel twice as far as those in urban areas, with many traveling over an hour for specialty care,” the letter stated. “Since 2005, 168 rural hospitals have had to close their doors, a trend that has only intensified in recent years. 2019 saw a record number of rural hospital closures in one year, with a total of 19 closures. As rural Americans prepare for the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must work to keep rural hospitals open to face this challenge.” 

The letter was led by Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02), Ann Kuster (NH-02), and Jared Huffman (CA-02). Additional legislative sign-on included Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), Juan Vargas (CA-51), Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Terri Sewell (AL-07), Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Deb Haaland (NM-01), TJ Cox (CA-21), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Joe Neguse (CO-02), Sanford Bishop, Jr. (GA-02), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Jim Costa (CA-16), Daniel Kildee (MI-05), G. K. Butterfield (NC-01), William Keating (MA-09), Cheri Bustos (IL-17), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Abby Finkenauer (IA-01), and David Trone (MD-06).

The White House didn’t immediately respond to Daily Yonder’s request for comment.