rural hospitals

Hospitals continue to fill up across the Mountain West, and that means some patients may have nowhere to go.


Ivinson Memorial Hospital


Hospital capacity is one metric that has stayed relatively stable throughout the pandemic, but in the past month, that's changed as hospitals run out of space and staffing is stretched thinner.

Utah has a number of major medical facilities that often take patients from all over the Mountain West. But the state is nearing a breaking point: too many COVID-19 patients and not enough resources. That crisis in care could have a domino effect around the region.


Ivinson Memorial Hospital

Albany County is currently experiencing a surge in confirmed, active coronavirus cases. And one measure of the virus' spread - available intensive care unit beds - is in flux.

Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

At the start of the pandemic, the CEO of St. John's Hospital in Jackson had a big concern. The hospital runs a Senior Living Center and Paul Beaupre feared an outbreak.

Hospital finances around the nation have been hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes Wyoming hospitals as they had to stop providing the non-essential services that make up a huge percentage of their revenue for a period of time. Wyoming Public Radio's Kamila Kudelska spoke with the president of the Wyoming Hospital Association Eric Boley on the situation in our state.

Public Domain

Wyoming hospitals are facing financial uncertainty amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Most hospitals are following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation to stop all non-essential services, like elective surgeries. 

Star Valley Health

Nationally, New York, South Dakota and many other states are experiencing an overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients. But Wyoming isn't projected to reach its peak number of coronavirus cases until early May.

This story was powered by America Amplified, a public radio initiative.

Shelby, Mont. is home to a lot of wheat and barley fields, a decent high school football team, and an Amtrak train that passes through town twice a day. It's a place where almost everyone knows everyone. 

"The people here are fantastic," says William Kiefer, CEO of the only hospital in the county that offers 24/7 emergency medical services. "There's a huge sense of community."

So when people began getting sick and even dying from COVID-19, it hit hard. 

As hospitals continue to fill up with COVID-19 patients, one major health care provider in the Mountain West announced it’s cutting pay for some of its medical staff.

U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jacob Sippel

As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the United States, we hear a lot about the shortage of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds. But there's another critical shortage, especially in rural areas, of health care providers.

In Grangeville, Idaho, population 3,000, Syringa Hospital has just 15 beds, an emergency room and a clinic. As is common in rural medicine, the chief medical officer, Dr. Matthew Told, is also a family practice OB and, on a recent evening, the on-call ER doc.

"We don't have ventilator services, we don't have respiratory therapy," Told says during a break between seeing patients.

Rural hospital closures are becoming more common, and that’s leading to longer response times for ambulances to reach the scene of an emergency, according to a recent study.

Melodie Edwards

Gary and Celeste Havener live forty miles outside of Laramie in southeast Wyoming. They spend a lot of their time growing vegetables and riding horses across the prairie.

The American Hospital Association has released a new report on the state of rural hospitals across the country. There’s good and bad news about how the Mountain West stacks up.

First, the bad news. When it comes to the number of mental health professionals, our region looks like a black hole.

USDA

Hot Springs County Hospital in Thermopolis and Westward Heights Care Center in Lander received a combined $25.5 million loan from the United States Department of Agriculture. The hospitals will be using the funds to modernize and expand their facilities.

University of Wyoming

The University of Wyoming is looking to find more space for the WWAMI medical program. The program is run by the University of Washington and trains students from Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho to be doctors. 

Raif via Flickr

A bill that would provide funding to help hospitals pay for charity care has been reduced. The bill started at ten million dollars in the Senate, but the House on Tuesday voted to cut funding down to one million dollars.

The money will now be targeted for small hospitals with under 25 beds. Several Representatives say all hospitals need help, but Cheyenne Republican Bob Nicholas countered that, without a study, it’s impossible to say what amount of help larger hospitals really need.

A bill that would help hospitals pay for charity care is making its way through the House of Representatives. It would give hospitals 5 million dollars to help cover the cost of unpaid medical bills.

The State Senate continues debating a bill that would provide money to public hospitals in the state to help pay for uncompensated care.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Tony Ross tried to reduce the 5-million dollars in the bill down to two-point-five million, but the Senate rejected that amendment.

Supporters say many hospitals are struggling with so-called “charity care”, but Ross worries that the bill may open the door to a long term commitment.

In an effort to increase medical services to rural communities, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are now accepting applications for the Frontier Community Health Integration Project (F-CHIP).

Transparency is key for hospitals, doctor says

Jul 2, 2013

A doctor who will be speaking at the Renaissance Weekend in Jackson this week says transparency at hospitals can lead to better healthcare for patients. Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital and author of Unaccountable, a book about hospital transparency, says the lack of transparency at many hospitals stems from both data and historical attitudes. 

Bob Beck

Figuring out cost effective ways to upgrade rural health care is the goal of all hospitals and medical providers in the state. But it’s especially tough for the smallest rural facilities.  The numbers of doctors are small which can lead to mistakes and specialists are at a premium.  But thanks to electronic records and other forms of telemedicine… things are starting to improve.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports.

(sound of hospital)