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General News, United States

Rural areas fear spread of virus as more hospitals close

CARROLLTON, Ala. (AP) — As the coronavirus spread across the United States, workers at the lone hospital in one Alabama county turned off beeping monitors for good and padlocked the doors, making...

4/1/2020 4:31:00 PM

The coronavirus pandemic couldn't come at a worse time for rural communities across the U.S. that have lost hospitals. Nearly 200 small-town hospitals have closed nationwide since 2005, often forcing residents to drive much farther for health care.

CARROLLTON, Ala. (AP) — As the coronavirus spread across the United States , workers at the lone hospital in one Alabama county turned off beeping monitors for good and padlocked the doors, making...

spread across the United States, workers at the lone hospital in one Alabama county turned off beeping monitors for good and padlocked the doors, making it one of the latest in a string of nearly 200 rural hospitals to close nationwide.Now Joe Cunningham is more worried than ever about getting care for his wife, Polly, a dialysis patient whose health is fragile. The nearest hospital is about 30 miles away, he said, and that’s too far since COVID-19 already has been confirmed in sparsely populated Pickens County, on the Mississippi state line.

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Cunningham is trusting God, but he’s also worried the virus will worsen in his community, endangering his wife without a hospital nearby.“It can still find its way here,” said Cunningham, 73.The pandemic erupted at an awful time for communities trying to fill health care gaps following the closure of 170 rural hospitals across the nation in the last 15 years. 2019 was the worst year yet, with 19 closures, and eight more have shut down since Jan. 1, according to the Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina.

While the nation’s coronavirus hot spots so far have been big cities like New York and New Orleans, officials fear inadequate testing and the lack of medical resources linked to hospital failures will catch up with smaller population centers.The reasons for the closures vary, but experts and administrators cite factors including declining rural populations, rising medical costs, insufficient Medicare reimbursements, large numbers of uninsured patients, state decisions against Medicaid expansion and mismanagement. About 60% of the counties and towns that have lost hospitals are in the South, an analysis by the Sheps Center showed.

Other communities are trying to keep hundreds of endangered hospitals afloat as resources are stretched thinner than ever and moneymaking services like elective surgeries are curtailed during the outbreak.“It’s a scary time to be thinking about losing a hospital when you’ve got a pandemic going on,” said Scott Graham, chief executive officer of Three Rivers and North Valley Hospitals in central Washington. The hospitals serve about 26,000 people in a wide-open area that Graham describes as so remote it’s more frontier than rural.

In North Conway, New Hampshire, a physician at the 25-bed Memorial Hospital already is among the county’s seven confirmed cases of coronavirus, said CEO Art Mathisen. The hospital is preparing for the worst as it tries to triple the number of beds and spends upward of $100,000 on rooms with air flow aimed at limiting the spread of contagions, he said.

About 15% of the U.S. population, or more than 46 million people, lives in rural areas, according to the Census Bureau. They are more likely than urban dwellers to die from chronic respiratory illnesses, heart disease and other problems that put people more at risk for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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In West Virginia, where no city has a population of more than 50,000 and 20% of residents are senior citizens, frustration has mounted over two recent hospital closings that forced patients to seek help farther away, and a third hospital that filed for bankruptcy in October announced Monday it was shutting down in April. There has been talk but no immediate action to open new facilities to deal with coronavirus cases in one of the unhealthiest states.

“We certainly need our local hospital. We need the beds. We need the equipment, and we need it locally,” said Michael Angelucci, a state lawmaker who operates an ambulance service in rural Fairmont, West Virginia, where a hospital closed this month.The pandemic could actually hasten more rural hospital closures, said Michael Topchik of the Maine-based Charter Center for Rural Health. He co-authored a study released in February that found about 450 rural hospitals were vulnerable to shutting down.

Most rural hospitals make money on emergency room care and elective procedures, which are on hold as health care workers try to ration masks and other protective gear in anticipation of COVID-19 infections, he said.“Our study predicts the worse is yet to come if something’s not done to stabilize the safety net,” he said.

In northern Missouri, Sullivan County Memorial Hospital’s chief executive, Tony Keene, said that on top of the recent drop in revenue linked to reduced services, he has been pumping money into preparation for a possible outbreak in the rural area by the Iowa border where the hospital is.

“We need an infusion of cash, like now,” Keene said. “If we go a couple more weeks, we are going to have to make very serious decisions on whether we pay our vendors or pay our people.”The $2.2 trillion coronavirus package approved by Congress last week includes $100 billion for hospitals, but it’s unclear how much of that will go toward rural health care centers.

As Pickens County Medical Center prepared to close on March 6, Mayor Mickey Walker organized a protest outside the public hospital that drew around 70 people — a big crowd in a town of only 950 people. The facility shut down anyway.A building beside the shuttered, tan-brick hospital houses medical offices, including the dialysis clinic that treats Joe Cunningham’s wife, but Walker said that’s not enough. The old folks Walker talks to through church are getting more worried by the day about the new virus.

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“Everybody’s just real panicky,” Walker said. “We have all this virus stuff going on, and we don’t have a hospital to go to.”___Associated Press writers Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City, Missouri; John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Michael Casey in Concord, New Hampshire; Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama; Amy Forliti in Minneapolis; and Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Oregon, contributed to this report.

Read more: The Associated Press »

Thanks ACA. Maybe if they weren't forced to 'provide services' for illegals, they would still be in business? Why wasn't this mentioned in the article? At last count, 13.7 million Americans, or 4% of the population, live in medically underserved areas, defined as areas with a shortage of health care services for residents.

Obamacare cured this. The world order hates rural living. Hive life and hive mind is all they want obedient cattle to be. F hospitals and F modern medicine. Homeopathy and natural is the only way! yeah, 13 hospitals in NYC alone! Isn't the incompetence of the Crooked DNC the hidden agenda? Strange that not one Journalist in NYC talk about the many Hospitals recently closed in the 5 Boroughs for Condo Developments CONVID19

Local government should temporarily reopen them immediately‼️✊🏼😷 Neocapitalismo to blame, the ultra rich profit, the poor pay. oh, central planning, you work so well Well done you neoliberal bastards. The Leftist Elite has made fun of rural communities for the last three years...save your faux concern.

Well, the social distancing may help them to keep the virus in town, not in their big open spaces. Maybe use those for isolation units?

Coronavirus strains rural hospitals 'to the absolute limit'"Even before all this happened, we had a rural hospital crisis in America," said one official. "This situation is going to compound that."

Rural hospitals and private medical practices struggle to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemicDr. Ed Boyle is trying to keep a brave face for his staff in Bend, Oregon, but revenue has taken a huge hit now that his medical practice can no longer perform elective procedures during the coronavirus shutdown. His wife, Dr. Ida Azul, is in the same boat.

Inside Rural AmericaMost COVID-19 cases have been found in cities across the U.S., but what about smaller towns? In this episode of the “Ground Game: Inside the Outbreak” podcast, host ralphDrussoAP talks to reporter gflaccus about how rural areas have been affected. ralphDrussoAP gflaccus They are in big trouble. Many deaths. I knew this was a pandemic a long time ago, but I didn’t act. They’ll still vote for me. Sad! ralphDrussoAP gflaccus Small towns do not have the assets to even acquire the test. ralphDrussoAP gflaccus Correlation?

Children aren't at high risk for coronavirus, experts say. But children's hospitals are.Children’s hospitals are facing the same supply shortages and testing backlogs that have been hampering adult hospitals nationally. “We have a lot of frightened people, and they are streaming toward our doors.'

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