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Rural Nebraska hospitals prepare for COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 7:05 AM, Mar 26, 2020

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Many of those healthcare facilities in rural areas of America already find it difficult to get the resources needed to be best equipped, especially now with a global pandemic.

Large metro area hospitals are becoming overburden with coronavirus patients. Doctors and nurses say it's just a matter of time when rural areas start to feel the impacts, as well.

Eric Barber, president and CEO of Mary Lanning Healthcare in Hastings, Nebraska says resource allocation is the biggest challenge for rural hospitals. His key focus has been making sure the hospital is stocked with personal protective equipment to combat COVID-19.

"It feels almost like the calm before the storm," Barber said. "We are on a two to four week supply right now, that we actually have available. We are very much on a wait-and-see mode."

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), there are 64 critical-access hospitals and 145 health clinics in rural Nebraska.

President and CEO of Bryan Health out of Lincoln, Nebraska, Russ Gronewold, says he's confident these rural doctors and nurses can keep up with a surge in coronavirus patients.

"Folks in rural Nebraska do exactly what you would expect during a crisis," Gronewold said. "They don't run away from it. They run right to it."

Gronewold says many of the hospitals have opened up bed space, checked the number of available ventilators and worked closely with the larger hospitals in Lincoln and Omaha.

"They've said, 'we plan on keeping as many as these patients as possible,' until they get to the point where they need 24/7 ventilation," Gronewold said.

If more resources are needed, many rural hospitals have designed a plan on how to safely transfer a patient, according to Gronewold.

Until then, Barber says his staff is prepared for this pandemic.

"We could take a surge of about another 50 patients," Barber said. "We have a 10-bed ICU. We have enough ventilators to equip each one of those rooms with a ventilator. We have a local surgery center that could help us acquire more if we needed to."

Barber is also encouraging residents in rural areas to support local businesses that help keep the community thriving.