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South Dakota Sens. Johnson, Thune sponsor bill to help rural hospitals

WASHINGTON -- Sens. Tim Johnson and John Thune have co-sponsored legislation to extend a rural hospital mortgage insurance program that has already helped hospitals in 10 states, including South Dakota.

The bill would provide a five-year extension to a program that allows rural hospitals to apply for mortgage insurance from the Federal Housing Administration.

The program allows these facilities to provide a full range of health-care services, such as rehabilitation and long-term care, in addition to acute care.

The current program is slated to expire Sunday, and absent this legislation many rural hospitals would face higher financing costs on construction and renovation loans to update and improve their facilities, the senators said.

To date, 10 rural hospitals in 10 states have received mortgage insurance through the program, including Fall River Health Services in Hot Springs.

In 2008 and 2009, the Federal Housing Administration provided mortgage insurance to Fall River Health Services on loans to build a new hospital and rural health clinic. That insurance guarantee saved the hospital more than $800,000 in financing costs, making the construction project affordable.

The legislation will allow Fall River Health Services to apply for insurance on a new loan to build an updated nursing home facility in Hot Springs, to replace the existing Castle Manor Nursing Home.

In 2006, the last time this program was extended, the bill passed by unanimous consent.