Rural Hospitals Ready To Meet Virus Challenge | WGLT

Rural Hospitals Ready To Meet Virus Challenge

Mar 25, 2020

Rural hospitals in central Illinois are ready to care for patients with COVID-19 symptoms, but demand so far has been low.

Warner Hospital and Health Services in Clinton has ample supplies, including a ventilator and a mobile triage unit outside its emergency room department, to handle patients who may have the novel coronavirus.

“We have changed our priority to making the coronavirus our top priority. So far, no physical patients have presented themselves with virus symptoms,” said Paul Skowron, CEO of the Clinton facility.

Warner and other hospitals have posted information from the Centers for Disease Control on their websites to help people decide if they need testing and medical care.

Warner closed its intensive care unit last year, but space is available to set up a ventilator, should a patient need a higher level of care, said Skowron. The hospital has transfer agreements with facilities in neighboring cities.

In Illinois, 1,865 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, with 19 deaths, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. More than 20 cases of the virus have been confirmed in central Illinois.

Rural hospitals have screened patients with symptoms of the virus but no one has been admitted, according to Pat Schou, executive director of the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network, which represents 57 rural facilities in Illinois.

Rural hospitals “are ready and able” to care for patients, said Schou.

Coordination of services, staffing and establishment of triage areas to contain the virus if an infected patient comes into the hospital are a few of the challenges smaller hospitals have navigated in recent weeks, said Schou.

The shift of services away from outpatient clinics – a significant revenue stream for many community-based hospitals— may create revenue issues later this year.

“Some hospitals are looking at how to cash flow this for a while. This is no different than a small business,” said Schou.

Equipment and supplies have not been at issue for smaller facilities, said Schou, but concerns exist that shortages could happen as the virus spreads in larger cities.

Advocate Eureka Hospital in Eureka, a 25-bed critical access hospital, has no patients who have tested positive for the virus, according to spokesperson Lynn Hutley, but more cases are expected.

To conserve supplies, Eureka has updated standards for personal protective equipment.

“This includes reuse of certain supplies, like N95 masks and eye protection, in line with CDC guidance,” said Hutley. “We have the necessary supplies for now, but this is relative to the demand, which we know will increase.”

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