Monday, March 16, 2020

Rural hospitals worry about having enough beds, employees and supplies to handle likely influx of covid-19 patients

Rural hospitals are already stretched thin on resources and staffing. A portrait of a tiny hospital in rural southeastern Washington shows how that and other factors will make it harder for rural areas to cope with the coronavirus, Eli Saslow reports for The Washington Post.

Dayton General Hospital in Columbia County recently got its first confirmed case of covid-19. Staff had been trying to prepare for an outbreak for the past month, but are low on masks and other protective gear, and are having a hard time finding it anywhere. As a recent Post story noted, rural hospitals are at the "tail end of supply chains" for medical gear, and are most likely to have difficulty keeping critical supplies in stock.

Dayton, in Columbia County, Wash.
(Wikipedia map)
Also, Dayton hospital staff are concerned because covid-19 is deadlier for seniors and those with underlying health problems, and the population of Dayton (and most of rural America) has disproportionate amounts of both. "Like most rural communities, Dayton had high rates of COPD, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Experts estimated that as many as 1 million of the most vulnerable Americans might need to rely on lifesaving ventilators, and Dayton General had none," Saslow reports.

Dayton has no coal miners, but the increased need for oxygen tanks highlights a potential problem for rural hospitals in coal-mining areas: Covid-19 will hit black-lung patients harder, Will Wade reports for Bloomberg. The United Mine Workers of America recently warned that miners are at "significant risk" when the virus spreads to coal-mining areas, since they work in enclosed spaces where the virus can be easily transmitted.

Another concern in Dayton and other rural hospitals: staffing numbers are so low that, if any hospital workers catch the virus, it could grind operations to a halt, Saslow reports.

The lack of local hospital beds worries Dan Brown, a former council member in Bellaire, Ohio, near Wheeling, W.Va., Liam Niemeyer reports for Ohio Valley ReSource, a public-radio consortium. "The number of beds have gone down so dramatically. I can’t imagine if we had any kind of outbreak, with a two percent or five percent fatality rate, we’re in deep trouble," Brown told Niemeyer. "The whole thing is setting up for failure."

No comments: