As the number of coronavirus cases surges across the country, several hospitals in rural areas are working beyond their capacity. Most of the hospitals are overcrowded and they do not have enough critical support systems to handle the Covid 19 crisis.
Jeff Turner, CEO of Moore County District, says that his rural hospital is not able to handle the load, and they often look up to larger hospitals in nearby regions. The closest large hospital he can find in this situation is about 50 miles from the rural hospital in Amarillo.
The Dumas hospital in North Texas can handle about 11 patients and about 3 ICU units. However, they are not having enough life-saving therapies, and they have to depend on large hospitals in nearby districts in this situation.
The situation is so bad that the staff often look for hospital space about 500 miles away in Kansas City when the beds are full. The nearby regions with big hospitals include Midland, Lubbock, Dallas, Denver, and Oklahoma City.
Many patients have succumbed to the disease as they had to wait for a long time to get space at big hospitals. In recent weeks, close to six patients have died due to a lack of space in the rural hospital.
Unlike the big cities, turning away patients at small rural hospitals is a tough job, according to Turner. He says that these are our neighbors and family members in a small community, and it is difficult to see them in this situation. While the early wave of coronavirus was seen more in big cities like New York, it has now spread to rural areas across the country.
The rural health network is not so good when compared to the big hospitals in urban areas, and it has strained the system with more than 2000 deaths a day across the country. In this situation, rural Americans are disproportionately affected due to the pandemic.
Most small hospitals are understaffed and do not have enough financial resources to handle a pandemic of this scale. What makes things worse is that the rural population is not too concerned when it comes to taking precautions, and they are not maintaining social distancing at churches and other public places. Other than that, the usage of masks is also not up to the mark, and this is also another big reason for the surge in the number of cases across the country.
The problem gets bigger when staff members and doctors get affected in rural areas. As the hospitals are already suffering from a shortage of staff, they will be under tremendous pressure when a doctor gets infected in this situation.
Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association, says that these small rural hospitals were primarily designed for general surgery and primary care, and they are not able to handle a global pandemic of this scale. For this reason, the pandemic response in such hospitals is not up to the mark as they have a severe shortage of equipment and resources.
Across several rural hospitals, the authorities are literally begging other large hospitals to take some patients when they are crowded. They say that the authorities had never faced such a situation before the pandemic. The problem is not that the large hospitals in the city do not want to take patients and help rural hospitals. The large hospitals are also not having enough ICU beds, and this is the main problem with the rising number of cases.
When the symptoms get worse, patients need critical care, and this is not available in most rural hospitals. Even when some hospitals have ICU units, they can handle a limited number of patients due to a lack of resources. This is the same problem with the big hospitals, and most of the ICU beds are already full of Covid 19 patients.
Apart from managing the global pandemic, rural hospitals are also worried about keeping their doctors and nurses safe during this situation. In some cases, an emergency order had to be issued that allowed infected health workers to continue the work if they do not have any symptoms. This is due to a severe shortage of trained resources in many rural hospitals. Hospitals authorities are already worrying about the winter season, which can lead to a further surge in cases.