LUBBOCK, Texas — The effects of COVID-19 are still taking a toll on Texas hospitals today.

A new report from Kaufman Hall found nearly one out of 10 hospitals in the state are at risk of closing. That’s twice as many as before the pandemic. 

Federal funding has helped keep hospitals afloat, but that money is running low. 

“That’s really created the fiscal cliff for those facilities,” said John Hawkins, president of the Texas Hospital Association. “That’s the challenge that we fear going forward, particularly in our rural hospitals in an urban area, you’re not necessarily going to see a hospital closure, but you will see those limited service lines, limited access points and longer waits in the emergency room.”

The report explained that the problem stems from inflation driving up costs, less patients going in and staffing issues. 

The Texas Organization Of Rural & Community Hospitals defines a rural hospital as one that exists in a county of 60,000 people or less. There are quite a few across the south plains. 

Collin McLarty, CEO of Yoakum County Hospital, said during the pandemic, rural hospitals in West Texas played a pivotal role in taking in patients when city hospitals like University Medical Center and Covenant Medical Center ran out of beds. 

So what does this look like here on the South Plains where we have a number of rural hospitals which are at a much higher risk of closing?

“What we find in most rural communities is that the hospital is an anchor for economic development all throughout the community,” said John Henderson, CEO of the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals. “The hospital closes, the pharmacy closes, the grocery store closes, and then the community just kind of falls down.”

McLarty said he’s seeing it firsthand. 

“I’m paying on average about 20% more for staff than I was before,” McLarty said. “Medical supplies are up about 10-15% higher than pre-pandemic, drug expenses are probably 10%. Along with all of that, volume has declined, while patient days and length of stay have increased, so we’re spending more money on fewer patients.”

McLarty said the closer to Lubbock a rural hospital is, the harder it is to compete with urban hospitals like UMC and Covenant for staffing.

“You have South Plains College, Texas Tech, Covenant School of Nursing, Midland and Odessa College,” McLarty said. “Why would those people come back and move here, when all of those places are hiring individuals and have way more resources to entice those individuals to go work?”

McLarty said the partnership between rural and city hospitals in any community is of the utmost importance.

According to the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals, data shows that after a rural hospital closes, mortality rates in the area it served increase by 8%.