Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Montana rural hospitals get $4 million for virus fight

by Gail Schontzler

Forty-eight small rural Montana hospitals will receive $4 million from the federal CARES Act to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, Montana’s senators announced Wednesday.

Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines said that the funds would be available through the Small Rural Hospitals Improvement Program, known as SHIP.

Montana’s SHIP program is run through the Montana Office of Rural Health and Area Health Education Center, based at Montana State University.

Livingston Healthcare, Madison Valley Medical Center and Big Sky Medical Center will all receive funding, said Cindra Stahl, assistant director of the Montana Office of Rural Health and Area Health Education Center.

Montana is one of the largest state SHIP participants in the country, and the state’s program serves 48 Montana hospitals, 47 of which are critical access hospitals.

Montana’s SHIP program, which normally receives $450,000 annually, helps small rural hospitals with 49 or fewer beds with buying equipment, training, technology purchases and equipment, according to MSU.

Tester’s news release said the money would be used for critical data systems, while Daines’s said it would go toward expanding telehealth, purchasing more personal protective equipment (PPE) and boosting testing capacity.

“Folks in rural Montana have always known the importance of our small rural hospitals, but in the face of this pandemic, these facilities could not be more critical in keeping our communities safe and healthy,” Tester said.

“This funding will help our health experts at MSU support our critical access hospitals and rural communities during the coronavirus pandemic,” Daines said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday awarded nearly $165 million to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in rural communities.

In all, Montana is in line to receive $1.25 billion from bipartisan virus relief bills passed by Congress to help workers, farmers, small businesses and hospitals.