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The triage tent at UCHealth Memorial Hospital North is up and will start to be used when there is a certain trigger point that is reached with patients. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

A proposed bill from U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner would extend financial help to rural hospitals that postpone elective procedures in order to focus on COVID-19 response.

“Even before the outbreak, many of our rural hospitals and providers were on the brink of shuttering,” said Bennet. “Now they face an existential challenge.”

The bill would provide a one-time grant to critical access and rural hospitals of $1,000 per patient per day over three months. Such hospitals would receive additional subsidies and boosted Medicare reimbursements for freeing up capacity. Care providers and ambulatory surgical centers would be eligible for U.S. Small Business Administration loans and would receive a grant equal to their payrolls during the first quarter of 2020.

“Open beds in rural hospitals will also become essential to accommodate patient transfers from overwhelmed urban hospitals,” said a release from the offices of Gardner and Bennet. “Many rural facilities are also equipped to accommodate patients in need of ventilators, which experts predict will be essential to the nation’s pandemic response in the weeks ahead.”

The American College of Surgeons has issued guidance to hospitals, including limiting the number of employees to only those necessary for patient care and trauma response. “The current worldwide COVID-19 pandemic threatens to overwhelm the healthcare system and thus impact the ability to care for critically injured patients and other surgical emergencies,” wrote the organization.

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