U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, along with a bipartisan group of 18 of his Senate colleagues, are pushing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to consider the needs of rural hospitals as it distributes the $100 billion healthcare fund included in the CARES act.

A release said Merkley has been in regular contact with rural and frontier health care providers through the pandemic, and has heard firsthand about how funding shortfalls are putting worker’s health and the quality of the care they can provide at risk.

In a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan, the senators urged the agency to execute an equitable distribution of funding from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund for small rural hospitals, critical access hospitals and other rural providers engaged in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter said that last year rural hospital closures hit a record high, and for 2020 is on pace to be even higher. It said that so far this year eight rural hospitals have closed and several more are on the brink. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, rural hospitals were already operating on shoestring budgets, and with the cancellation of elective procedures, they have a desperate and immediate need for more funding, according to the letter.