‘Finding solutions’: Hutchinson talks rural healthcare at policy committee hearing

Photo courtesy of Sen. Scott Hutchinson The Pa. Senate’s Majority Policy Committee, including Sen. Scott Hutchinson, met last week in Monongahela, Pa. to discuss rural healthcare challenges.

Rural healthcare issues were the focus of the Pa. Senate’s Majority Policy Committee last week.

Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-21) serves on that committee.

A hearing was held at the Penn Highlands Mon Valley Hospital in Monongahela, Pa. on Feb. 14 focused on “finding solutions to the unique health care challenges facing rural Pennsylvanians,” Hutchinson said.

“We heard from medical providers, non-emergency transportation providers, and leading policymakers about how we can improve care and access to care in a financially sustainable way,” Hutchinson said.

“Rural communities are wonderful places to live and work,” Committee chair Sen. Dan Laughlin (Erie County) said.

Laughlin explained that nearly one-third of Pennsylvania’s population lives in areas that are considered rural.

That brings specific challenges – Laughlin pointed out the average older ages of those areas as well as an increased percentage of financially disadvantaged people.

Hutchinson specifically asked about data from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania identifying financially vulnerable hospitals as well as the increased costs for treating COVID-19 patients.

Hutchinson said that “as I look at the map” he was surprised by some that are on the list and some that aren’t.

He asked about the criteria to be listed as a financially vulnerable hospital.

Dr. Kyle Kopko, the executive director of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, said those designations are based on profit margin.

“The cost of treating a COVID-19 patient, that was counterintuitive to me,” Hutchinson added.

Data provided by Steven Fontaine, CEO for the Penn Highlands system, indicated that it is more expensive to treat COVID-19 patients today than it was earlier in the pandemic.

“I thought maybe early on, with so much now known about COVID or treatment protocols, it seems like several years ago (it would be) more expensive to treat… than today.

“You’re saying the cost of treating those patients is skyrocketing. I’m perplexed by that.”

Fontaine cited staff and physician shortages as well as increased pharmaceutical and professional services


“The costs are still there,” he said, “even though the pandemic in most folks’ eyes has gone away.”


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