Many Rural Hospitals Are Overwhelmed by the COVID-19 CrisisThe coronavirus pandemic is spiraling out of control. Already, more than 300,000 people have died due to the pandemic. Over 20 million people have been infected. The strain on hospitals across the country is a serious concern. Some hospitals are to the point of considering rationing or triaging medical care to those most likely to survive.

The healthcare crisis is also increasing the vulnerability of patients who rely on rural hospitals. In one illustrative case, a Wisconsin resident who had a positive COVID-19 test was transported from a St. Croix Falls hospital to a North Dakota hospital – nearly 300 miles away – because the local St. Croix Falls hospital didn’t have a bed or the resources to treat her. She was “put in a futuristic, transparent oxygen hood, driven about 12 miles to the airport, and loaded onto a propeller plane.” When the patient recovered, her son had to drive those 300 miles in order to bring her back home.

More and more, the pandemic is harming rural communities

The story of the patient airlifted from Wisconsin to North Dakota is not unusual. Many overwhelmed smaller hospitals are also airlifting patients to any hospital that will take them. According to the National Rural Health Association, 61% of rural hospitals do not even have intensive care units. Many rural hospitals are understaffed, with limited beds, and scarce resources.

While securing the best care for patients is important, the costs may be too much to bear. Air transport is prohibitively expensive; it can cost $25,000 which may not be covered even if you have private insurance. Add this to the assumed costs of out-of-network care, and you could have $75,000 in medical bills even with insurance.

When air transport isn’t possible, a rural ambulance may need to drive hundreds of miles to a city hospital, costing the patient a fortune and putting the ambulance out of service to residents. During the transport, the delays in treatment can be life-threatening.

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