Rural hospitals are feeling the effect of the surge in coronavirus cases in Washington. Unlike earlier in the pandemic when urban areas felt most of the impact, this time small town hospitals are also being slammed with cases. And this is happening as some of the same hospitals are dealing with an influx of patients from out of state.
Jacqueline Barton-True, vice-president of rural health for the Washington Hospital Association, said small hospitals are at a disadvantage to urban hospitals because they don’t have a big staff pool to draw on.
“Our nurses and docs and care providers have been responding for months now and they’re exhausted," Barton-True said. "They’re doing really hard, agonizing crucial work and we need to make sure that they don’t become overwhelmed.”
One complication, Barton-True says, is that rural hospitals may be asked to take patients from urban areas if hospitals there reach capacity during this latest spike in cases. And in Eastern Washington, they are seeing an influx of patients from across the border in Idaho, which doesn’t have a mask mandate.
“If demand continues to surge out of Idaho that’s gonna really place some difficulty on our Washington hospitals,” she said.
She said Washington's Medical Coordinating Center, run by the University of Washington and Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, is charged with managing hospital capacity during the pandemic and would determine if patients from cities were sent to smaller, rural hospitals.
Barton-True said her hope is that Gov. Jay Inslee’s new restrictions make a difference and hospital capacity doesn't become an issue.
“I myself just disinvited everyone to the Thanksgiving I was planning to host with my family,” she said.
If we all did that, she said, it could help turn things around.
She said one thing that has improved since March is a more robust supply of personal protective equipment for caregivers. Money from the earlier CARES Act has helped keep rural hospitals afloat, Barton-True says.