Rural hospitals strained from COVID effects

Rural hospitals work with less. They have less capacity, fewer resources and less staff. So, when things get strained, they’re hit harder.
With a COVID-19 testing positivity rate hitting as high as 70% in Antelope County, rural centers like Antelope Memorial Hospital are facing a different kind of battle as Nebraska gets dangerously close to another shutdown.
“We have said all along we’re going to be fine in the critical access hospitals as long as I have those ICU beds available at my referral center. And that’s where we’re struggling,” said Dr. Kelli Osborn, one of the seven providers at AMH.
AMH is a critical access hospital, as defined by the Office of Rural Health Policy. This title was created in 1997 after rural hospitals were continually shutting down in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It gives certain benefits to allow these hospitals to serve less populated areas. As of 2017, Neligh’s population was just over 1,500.
“Being from a small town, it’s just a different kind of medicine that you practice,” she said. “When you’re in a bigger health center, everything is just right there.”
Staffing has been their largest limiting factor so far. She said they’ve seen three to four nurses sick with COVID-19 at once. This puts them out for 10 days, and the already small staff has to pick up the slack.
In only two weeks, 13 nurses together pulled 85 overtime hours on the inpatient hospital nursing floor alone. Nurses were pulled from other departments and out of administrative work to fill the gaps.
Antelope County didn’t see its first diagnosed COVID-19 patient until April but has since seen numbers spike. In September, the area peaked at a 70% positivity rate. This is the percent of tests that are done that come back positive. Nebraska’s peak positivity rate has been around 36%. Osborn called their positivity rate “absolutely insane.” Read the full story in this weeks edition of the Elgin Review submitted by Marie Meis, a former intern at the Elgin Review and currently a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.