House explores launch of $10 million grant program to boost health of rural hospitals

Bill calls for donors to double every dollar invested by state

By: - March 16, 2021 5:34 pm
Tara Mays, of the Kansas Hospital Association, endorsed a bill creating a $10 million grant program for benefit of struggling rural Kansas hospitals. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Tara Mays, of the Kansas Hospital Association, endorsed a bill creating a $10 million grant program for benefit of struggling rural Kansas hospitals. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A Kansas House committee tested the medical community’s pulse Tuesday on legislation earmarking $10 million in state funding for a new grant program to help financially struggling rural hospitals.

The Kansas Hospital Association and Kansas Medical Society offered affirmative testimony on the legislation, which would match every $2 invested by grant applicants with $1 from a new state fund. Under House Bill 2174, donors could specify the recipient county but not dictate what hospital within a county received a grant. The League of Kansas Municipalities requested the bill be amended to allow cities to receive grants from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment rather than limit that to counties.

Nationally, 47% of rural hospitals have been operating at a financial loss. Three of every four rural hospitals in Kansas have experienced losses. Advocates of the bill indicated the goal would be to assist rural communities with a sustainable path to delivery of preventive and primary care, chronic disease management and emergency medical services.

“Many rural hospitals across the country continue to financially struggle,” said Tara Mays, of the Kansas Hospital Association. “Our member hospitals are committed to working on efforts that provide flexibility to rural hospitals as well as opportunities to implement alternative rural health models that sustain health care services in rural communities.”

Kansas Medical Society lobbyist Rachelle Colombo said the public expected access to financially viable hospitals, but the ability of medical facilities to meet that expectation was “increasingly threatened.”

“Addressing the challenges that face health care in rural Kansas will require innovation, collaboration and commitment,” she said.

Wendi Stark, of the League of Kansas Municipalities, said the bill ought to be adjusted to allow cities as well as counties to apply for innovation grants. When a hospital closed, she said, it produced a ripple effect on a city’s economy. Closure of a community hospital puts a dent in the local tax base and places other businesses in jeopardy, she said.

“Many rural hospitals need to change the way they operate to meet the needs of their communities and make their business model more sustainable,” Stark said. “The availability of adequate health care for those who reside and work in the cities in the rural areas of our state is vital. Where accessibility to health care is lacking, people are less likely to seek homes and employment. Not every hospital needs to be a full service hospital.”

Gov. Laura Kelly and a bipartisan contingent of state legislators has recommended expansion of Medicaid to serve more than 100,000 people and bring more federal funding to health care statewide.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.