Rural Health Clinics Face Issues During Pandemic

Many rural health clinics primarily serving Medicaid recipients as well as the uninsured are navigating ways to help their patients manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure during the pandemic. One million Kentuckians see a health professional at more than ninety rural health clinics across the state.

David Bolt, chief executive of the Kentucky Primary Care Association, said rural clinics increasingly rely on telehealth phone and video appointments amid COVID-19, “and the concern there is that, in a lot of rural areas of the state, we still don’t have appropriate connectivity in that last mile for people to take advantage of it.”

Kentucky currently ranks 44th among states for broadband access, and statewide health organizations are calling for federal funding to expand reliable internet access in rural areas as part of continued coronavirus relief efforts.

With many patients continuing to avoid non-urgent care, clinic revenues are expected to decline as COVID-19 continues. But despite the challenging road ahead, Bolt said clinics are determined to continue providing primary care in communities hardest-hit by unemployment because of the pandemic.

“Some of these clinics have jumped in to continue to build primary-care operations in communities that have need,” he said.

In April, Congress approved a $225 million grant program specifically aimed at helping federally certified rural health clinics cover coronavirus-related expenses, including testing.