EL DORADO SPRINGS, Mo — One of the unique challenges facing smaller hospitals aren’t what they’re treating, but rather, who they are treating.
At Cedar County Memorial Hospital, CEO Jana Whitt says this year’s pandemic has really highlighted some of the most difficult parts of working in a rural hospital.
“Staffing,” says Whitt. “I think any hospitals you talk to right now is going to tell you that staffing is an issue, and especially in a small hospital. We also witnessed a period of time where the larger hospitals would not accept transfers because they too were experiencing high COVID numbers.”
With only about 130 full time employees, Whitt praises her employees for staying committed to their community by working extra shifts and longer hours.
“Living in a smaller community, you just don’t have the population to draw from,” Whitt explains. “If you’re in Greene County or the Kansas City area you have more population to draw staff from.”
Whitt also works as the Administrator of the Cedar County Health Department. Since March, they have had 613 positive cases, nine deaths, and they currently have 22 active cases. In November, she says they saw those numbers start to flare up.
In response, they designated an area of their medical surge unit specifically for COVID patients, but only enough room for about 10 people at a time. Two of the rooms are negative-pressure rooms.
Dr. Andrew Wyant has been a family doctor at CCMH for a couple of years. Formerly a doctor in Lexington, Kentucky, and now in a much smaller hospital, he says that healthcare facilities in rural areas are in a very surreal situation.
“I call myself a ‘country doctor’ sometimes,” Dr. Wyant says with a grin. “I didn’t necessarily plan on being that, but that’s what I am.”
He says taking care of family and friends brings forward the “small town” atmosphere even more.
“I had a patient recently that goes to my church. He came in, we were able to keep him here, get him through the acute phase of the illness, through the pneumonia, through the blood clots and all the things that go with it.”
Dr. Sean Smith is an emergency physician on duty at CCMH, but works in multiple hospitals in the area. While the work itself doesn’t change, he says the people they care for in rural areas bring a different perspective.
“Small communities are more apt to take care of your own friends, your own family, people you go to church with, people you sit at ballgames and talk to. You’re going to wind up taking care of those. Unfortunately, I have taken care of quite a few people I do know with COVID. There have been a couple that have died,” says Dr. Smith.
Smith says one thing he’d like to see more of is personal responsibility for people masking. He also encourages people not to be afraid to come to a hospital due to fears over the virus. He stresses that people who put off a medical visit open themselves up to even more risk for other conditions they may be suffering from.
On the topic of caring for those you know, Dr. Wyant says there are two different ways to look at the situation. He says it’s rewarding in some ways, but it adds pressure.
“It’s almost like a family atmosphere. I’ve like that. I’ve enjoyed it but it’s also taxing, because you’re so close to these people and you’re taking care of them not only as a patient – but as a friend,” says Dr. Wyant.
One benefit that CCMH has to their advantage is being able to rehab thier own patients with physical therapy once they start to recover from COVID-19.
They call this their “swing bed” unit, and it allows patients the luxury of being able to stay in the local area as they get back to full strength.