Nearly three months after the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in the United States, we are continuing to see an uptick in cases in Nebraska. In part, this simply demonstrates that we are testing more people. As we perform more tests, we are inevitably identifying more individuals with the virus. However, this rise in cases also indicates that COVID continues to spread, and that many Americans need access to care when they contract the virus.

In a state like ours, where nearly twice as many people live in rural areas as the national average, small-town community hospitals are essential to this care. In many areas of rural Nebraska, small, publicly owned hospitals are vital assets, and they are often the largest employers in our communities.

By now, you have likely heard of the Paycheck Protection Program, which was created when Congress passed and President Trump signed into law the CARES Act. This program provides forgivable loans to small business owners who use the funds to pay employees or other overhead costs. Due to the good relationship that exists between Nebraska businesses and our community banks and credit unions, this program has been successful in Nebraska. But there was a critical issue with the program because publicly owned hospitals were not eligible.

When I found out that these hospitals were not initially included in the program, I partnered with my friend Rep. Adrian Smith to address the problem. I spoke with President Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about the challenges Nebraska’s publicly owned hospitals face. I stressed to them that keeping publicly owned hospitals out of the PPP disproportionately affects Americans living in rural areas, and I made it clear that any policy that values the health of rural Americans should allow them to participate.

I am proud to say that on April 24, the U.S. Treasury and the Small Business Administration announced that publicly owned hospitals across the country are now eligible to participate in the PPP. This fix will benefit at least 34 additional hospitals in rural areas across Nebraska and allow residents of rural areas to continue to receive the same level of care as those who live in urban or suburban areas.

My staff and I have spoken with representatives from many of these hospitals. They have told us that they have been hit with a dramatic drop in revenue due to the one-two punch of the postponement of elective surgeries and the cancelation of other services that have been deemed nonessential, while at the same time devoting additional resources to serving the rising number of patients seeking COVID-19-related care.

Thankfully, the PPP is designed to help offset these kinds of difficulties. I heard from Doris Brown, CEO of Gordon Memorial Health Services in Gordon, that allowing publicly owned hospitals to apply for PPP loans has brought them “a transfusion of much needed financial resources to assist in meeting the needs of our employees and the communities we serve.”

My staff also spoke with Chris Nichols, CEO of Fillmore County Hospital in Geneva. According to Chris, becoming eligible for a PPP loan will allow them to “maintain our rural workforce of roughly 190 without having to consider difficult things like furloughing or laying off staff.”

Our publicly owned hospitals are critical to keeping Nebraskans healthy. While COVID-19 has increased the burden that all hospitals are carrying, I believe that where you live shouldn’t determine the level of health care you are able to access – especially during a pandemic. It is my hope that this change will help ensure Nebraskans get the care they need and deserve as we battle this virus.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

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