DIXON (WREX) — Medical professionals are more essential than ever, but the cost of making it through the pandemic has disproportionately left rural providers scrambling to stay afloat.
"1.5 million healthcare jobs have been lost since the pandemic began," says Kerri Lanum, Health IT Research Specialist at Northern Illinois University.
"We are seeing the very workers who are treating the essential health care workers being furloughed."
As Covid-19 spreads across the country, rural hospitals have been hit especially hard because profitable, elective surgeries are delayed.
"Revenue up to 80% is tied to those elective procedures, so even a couple of months without that revenue is really hurting them," says Lauren Wiseman of the Illinois Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center.
To cut costs, providers like Katherine Shaw Bethea Hospital in Dixon have temporarily closed clinics and furloughed staff.
"We kind of have to get through this hurdle," says Suzanne Ravlin, KSB Hospital Chief Legal Officer, "but the more time this goes on the more difficult decisions are going to have to be made."
"I'm not sure what's going to make up for the loss of procedures til maybe the patients become more comfortable with going back into the office to have those procedures done," says Lanum.
So providers are turning to telehealth, to not only give patients critical care they need, but bring in desperately needed revenue.
"Just like you need groceries, you also need to make sure you're getting the medical attention that you need," says Ravlin.
"We, from day one got right on that, recognizing the importance that we can still take care of our patients."
"Health care is traditionally, unfortunately behind other industries in using technology in their practice," says Lanum, "but the Covid has helped us to rapidly implement these technologies."
While elective procedures are resuming in Illinois, experts predict it will take time and additional federal funding to get heath providers out of the red.