rural health

At 70, Linda Findley has long been active in her small town of Fort Scott, Kansas, which sits more than an hour away from any major city.

Findley, whose husband died in an accident just after the local hospital closed, helps with the Elks and fundraising, and — like many people in this part of the country — doesn’t think COVID-19 is that dangerous.

From Kaiser Health News

Keely Connolly thought she would be safe once the ambulance arrived at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center in Kansas.

She was having difficulty breathing because she’d had to miss a kidney dialysis treatment a few days earlier for lack of child care. Her potassium was dangerously high, putting her at risk of a heart attack. But she trusted she would be fine once she was admitted and dialysis was begun.

The virus infecting thousands of Americans a day is also attacking the country's social fabric. The coronavirus has exposed a weakness in many rural communities, where divisive pandemic politics are alienating some of their most critical residents — health care workers.

A wave of departing medical professionals would leave gaping holes in the rural health care system, and small-town economies, triggering a death spiral in some of these areas that may be hard to stop.

cdc.gov

TOPEKA — Doses from Kansas’ first shipment of a COVID-19 vaccine were arriving Thursday in rural Kansas for hospitals to administer to health care workers, though the state expects its second shipment to be smaller than anticipated.

For the first time during the pandemic, Dr. Drew Miller was unable to send a severely ill COVID patient to the intensive care unit.

Miller and other staff at the Kearny County Hospital, in southwestern Kansas, had done what they could last weekend, putting the patient on a maximum oxygen flow. But the closest ICU in the area was one county over — St. Catherine Hospital in Garden City — and it was full. The nearest open ICU bed was in Kansas City, seven hours away.

WALLACE, Kansas – Wallace County is at the western edge of Kansas, on the border with Colorado. It’s the second-least populated county in the state, and for the first half of 2020, life here maintained a sense of normalcy while the rest of world dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rural hospitals face “catastrophic cash shortages” brought on by the COVID-19 crisis and need congressional action to save them, according to a Leawood, Kansas, advocacy group that represents hundreds of rural hospitals.

In a letter Monday addressed to the leaders of the U.S. House and Senate, the National Rural Health Association asks that 20% of the $100 billion in funding for hospitals in the CARES Act, the $2 trillion coronavirus response bill passed by Congress last month, be set aside for rural providers.  

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — The Finney County Emergency Medical Service department, with its staff of 23, is conserving its N95 masks and only using them when a patient is positive for COVID-19. Like large hospitals, U.S. cities and entire European countries, rural EMS workers aren’t shielded from the medical supply shortage. 

And that’s just one of the challenges rural EMS agencies across Kansas stare down as COVID-19 is being confirmed in their communities. They’re stretched thin, covering hundreds of miles, and seeing the ripple effects from the pandemic that’s shut down communities — something emergency plans hadn’t accounted for. 

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — When Christi Graber checked into the St. Catherine Hospital emergency room late last year, she thought she was having a heart attack.

Her left arm ached, she felt dizzy, and she experienced shortness of breath.

The hospital’s cardiologist wasn’t available that night or for the next three days, so Graber had two options: Travel by ambulance to see a cardiologist more than two hours away in Hays during a snowstorm; or simply go home. Ultimately, she and her husband drove home.

Dr. Max Self grabs a sanitary wipe and cleans off the small flashlight in his hands. More than 20 years as a family doctor in rural Fort Scott, Kan., has taught him a few tricks for dealing with little kids: "I've got my flashlight. See? Look, you want to hold it?"

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