Lawmakers worry that rural hospitals could be overwhelmed if faced with outbreak

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NEXSTAR) – So far there haven’t been any major coronavirus outbreaks in rural parts of the country but lawmakers worry that rural hospitals could be overwhelmed if an outbreak were to happen.

“Some of my hospitals only have you know, forty, fifty beds,” Representative Doug Lamalfa, R-California, said.

Congressman Doug Lamalfa says it wouldn’t take many coronavirus cases to overwhelm hospital systems in rural California.

“You don’t need a very big ripple of the virus coming through a small community to fill that out,” Lamalfa said.

Lamalfa says FEMA provided additional beds but that doesn’t fix the shortage of medical equipment and especially medical professionals in many rural areas.

“We don’t have a great amount of medical staff. We haven’t had an influx of doctors,” Lamalfa said.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say the shortage of medical supplies and doctors in rural parts of the country was a major problem even before the coronavirus outbreak.

They say the virus simply puts a spotlight on it.

“This crisis is a reminder that we should’ve invested in our public healthcare system decades ago,” Representative Josh Harder, D-California, said.

Josh Harder says the coronavirus has prompted him to push for more telehealth access tailored for rural areas like his Central Valley district.

“That’s a good mechanism for a lot of people across the valley,” Harder said.

Congressman Jim Costa proposed a more long-term fix to promote rural access to care.

“We need to build more medical schools in this country,” Representative Jim Costa, D-California, said.

Costa says regions with medical schools and doctor training typically attract and retain more doctors.

“It’s the ability to provide a quick response that is ultimately going to protect the health of individuals from our district,” Costa said.

Costa hopes rural areas get the support from the federal government they need as the battle against the virus continues.