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COVID In Colorado: Rural Hospitals Concerned About Bed, Staffing Shortages

DENVER (CBS4) - Amidst a third wave of COVID-19, some critical access hospitals and rural health clinics are having a much different experience than during earlier waves. This time, some are already filling up and others are dealing with staff shortages.

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At Melissa Memorial Hospital in Holyoke, elective surgeries are on hold once again, and financial concerns are compounding.

"We really haven't recovered from the loss in revenue that we had the first round, and now we're into this second wave which has different kinds of components for us," said CEO Cathy Harshbarger. "So, how is this going to play out for all of us in rural America?"

While the combination of dwindling revenues and increased costs is a long-term concern for Harshbarger, a more immediate one is bed space.

The facility, which is licensed for 15 beds, is currently working at surge capacity, treating 15 COVID-19 positive patients and 3 non-COVID-19 patients. Ten of those patients came to the hospital from a nursing home in neighboring Logan County that requested assistance last week.

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Soon, finding hospitals with open beds will be easier, as the Colorado Hospital Association is working to set up a statewide Combined Hospital Transfer Center. When it's live, it will be a centralized resource where hospitals can coordinate patient care, should one start nearing capacity or reach capacity.

"We need to be able to take care of those patients that otherwise would overwhelm hospitals where higher levels of care is required," Harshbarger said.

In Hugo, Lincoln Community Hospital has open beds, but is currently dealing with another dilemma. CEO, Kevin Stansbury, described his staffing levels last week as "touch and go."

"Because of the dramatic increase in Lincoln County, we saw, first of all, a number of our staff became positive, so we had to adjust how we were managing our staffing," Stansbury said.

On Wednesday, Stansbury said some of the staff was starting to come back into the normal rotation, but staff shortages are an ongoing concern. The hospital is the only facility of its kind along the I-70 corridor, between E-470 and Burlington, and is a critical resource for people living in Colorado's Eastern Plains, he said.

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"If we're limited in our ability because we're overtaxed by COVID or our staff are not able to care, then that's going to limit a big area of where we take care of patients from," Stansbury said.

While the remainder of the third COVID-19 wave will test the hospital's finances, staffing, and resources, Stansbury said he's confident the facility can withstand it all. He, along with Harshbarger, said the community also needs to help shoulder the load by wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and taking the virus seriously.

"We're running into exactly what we were warned about at the beginning of the first wave of flattening the curve," Stansbury said. "The curve is not flattened right now. It's peaking and we've got to figure out a way to get through this."

Here are some links to previous coverage on rural hospitals and COVID-19: Rural Colorado Hospitals At Risk During Coronavirus Pandemic | Rural Hospitals Get Some Relief, Other Financial Issues Remain


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