Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Surge in covid patients swamps rural hospitals

"The nation’s pandemic hotspots have shifted to rural communities, overwhelming small hospitals that are running out of beds or lack the intensive care units for more than one or two seriously ill patients," Christine Vestal reports for Stateline. "And in much of the Midwest and Great Plains, hospital workers are catching the virus at home and in their communities, seriously reducing already slim benches of doctors, nurses and other professionals needed to keep rural hospitals running."

New infection rates in rural areas have set records for the past four weeks in a row, and total rural cases topped 1 million as of last week. The rural epicenter of the pandemic has shifted in recent months from the Deep South to the Upper Midwest. Infection rates are "highest in North Dakota, followed by South Dakota, Montana, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Iowa, Arkansas and Illinois. Hospitalization rates also were rising in those states and others," Vestal reports. "Health care experts expect that a seasonal spike in flu and pneumonia, combined with a steady rise in covid-19 cases, will swamp many health-care systems, particularly in rural areas."

Surging cases could be the last straw for some rural hospitals, already cash-strapped from lack of elective procedures during clampdowns this year. For example, "according to a new report from the Kentucky Hospital Association, approximately 16 to 28 rural hospitals, financially vulnerable before the pandemic, could close eventually," Corinne Boyer reports for Ohio Valley Resource. "The pandemic has put even more strain on rural counties that already suffer from some of the poorest health outcomes in the country."

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