WORTHINGTON — Seven hospitals in southwest Minnesota are about to get a booster in their fight against COVID-19 in the form of $244,084 each in federal grants.

Sanford facilities located in Worthington, Jackson, Luverne and Westbrook, as well as Windom Area Hospital, Pipestone County Medical Center and Murray County Memorial Hospital, Slayton, are all slated to receive grant money. The funds must be used for coronavirus testing and mitigation, which could include contact tracing, distributing personal protective equipment, establishing testing sites and testing education.

“The grant is very specific in how it can be used,” said Sandra Schlechter, chief financial officer at Pipestone County Medical Center. “We are going through the grant criteria at this time to determine how or if we can use the funds.”

In total, 75 rural Minnesota hospitals will receive $19.5 million as part of the American Rescue Plan COVID-19 testing and mitigation Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program (SHIP) funding.

The program provides increased COVID-19 testing specifically to rural populations impacted by “long-standing systemic health and social inequities,” and are intended to help overcome the barriers of limited financial and personnel resources that rural hospitals often have, according to the National Rural Health Resource Center.

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“We are currently working to identify priority areas to invest the funds into key aspects of patient care,” said Eric Hilmoe, Sanford Health Network vice president of operations, thanking staff for providing outstanding care throughout the pandemic.

Sanford Worthington recently provided 267 first-dose Pfizer vaccines to 5-to-11-year-olds between Prairie Elementary and Worthington Middle School, and will continue working with schools to get children vaccinated, according to Tawn Hall, director of Nobles County Emergency Management and deputy county administrator.