After the closure of Tonopah’s only hospital nearly a year ago left area residents hours away from an emergency room, Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy, whose district covers southern rural Nevada, began researching ways to protect the financial well-being of rural hospitals.

A couple of weeks ago, he and an Alabama Democratic congressman introduced a bipartisan bill called the Rural Health Enhancement and Long Term Health Act of 2016, known by the acronym Rural HEALTH Act.

The bill reauthorizes the State Offices of Rural Health Grant Program and increases its five-year funding from $10 million to $15 million. It also allows matching grants for building new and updating existing hospitals of up to $100,000.

The bill also requires additional oversight from the Department of Health and Human Services, requiring it to report on the state of the nation’s rural health system — something that hasn’t been done since 2003. The report must include the number and cause of rural hospital closures and examine how those hospitals might have been saved.

Rep. Hardy said in a statement, which closely followed his speech on the floor of the House, “What we found was shocking. More than 30 percent of America’s rural hospitals are vulnerable to conditions that have caused the closure of 71 facilities since 2010. Rural communities are home to some of our most resilient people, but they are too often overlooked for that very reason. We need to act now to prevent more families from losing their lifelines in times of emergency.”

A press release from Hardy’s office quotes Teryl Eisinger, executive director of the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health, as saying, “Rural health care systems throughout the country continue to operate in a fragile state. By reauthorizing the State Office of Rural Health grant program, this bipartisan legislation will help provide improved access to quality health care for the 61 million Americans living in rural areas.”

The Rural HEALTH Act is supported by the Nevada Hospital Association, the Nevada State Office of Rural Health, the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health and the American Osteopathic Association.

The hospitals that would be affected by this bill include: Banner Churchill Community Hospital in Fallon, Battle Mountain General Hospital, Boulder City Hospital, Carson Valley Medical Center in Gardnerville, Desert View Hospital in Pahrump, Grover C. Dils Medical Center in Caliente, Humboldt General Hospital in Winnemucca, Incline Village Community Hospital, Mesa View Regional Hospital in Mesquite, Mount Grant General Hospital in Hawthorne, Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital in Elko, Pershing General Hospital in Lovelock, South Lyon Medical Center in Yerington and William Bee Ririe Hospital in Ely.

Though we generally favor regulatory relief rather than further expenditures of tax money, this bill is hardly a drop in the black hole of federal spending and should provide the oversight that might indeed find that regulatory burdens are too cumber- some for rural hospitals.

We encourage Nevada’s congressional delegation to get behind this bill and examine still more ways to protect rural health availability. — TM