Missouri's rural hospitals get White House funds to boost COVID-19 testing, curb spread

Galen Bacharier
Springfield News-Leader

Missouri's small rural hospitals will receive almost $8.3 million in federal aid, part of a White House initiative to assist small-town health care centers fighting a renewed surge of COVID-19.

The money will go to 32 facilities around the state, including Mercy hospitals in Aurora, Lebanon and Cassville — coming out to approximately $260,000 per hospital. All of those receiving federal funds have fewer than 50 beds, and 25 are labeled critical access hospitals, which have 25 or fewer beds and limited service.

"The Biden administration recognizes the important role that small rural hospitals have in closing the equity gap and ensuring that rural Americans can protect themselves and their communities from COVID-19," Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement Monday.

Health and Human Services  Secretary Xavier Becerra, surrounded by community members and healthcare advocates, speaks about Oklahoma's Medicaid expansion at Friendship Church Thursday, July 1, 2021  in Tulsa, Okla.

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Hospitals can use the funding to expand COVID-19 testing capacity and access, as well as mitigation efforts, depending on the needs of communities. The money will be distributed through the state's Offices of Rural Health. A spokesperson for Mercy's southwest Missouri hospitals did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The federal assistance comes as rural Missouri is being ravaged by the more infectious Delta variant of the virus, with cases last week rising 50 percent and larger hospitals in southwest Missouri straining to accommodate surging hospitalizations. The state ranks second among those where the virus is spreading the fastest on a per-person basis, according to a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

Galen Bacharier covers Missouri politics & government for the News-Leader. Contact him at gbacharier@gannett.com, (573) 219-7440 or on Twitter @galenbacharier.