Rural Texas hospital struggles to stay open amid coronavirus pandemic

Rural hospital struggles to stay open

Last Updated May 6, 2020 7:07 PM EDT

The coronavirus pandemic has led to frightening times for rural hospitals like Rolling Plains Memorial in Sweetwater, Texas, about three hours west of Dallas. Recently, the hospital has lost almost $2 million in revenue.

"A continuation of that could be devastating for this hospital," said CEO Donna Boatright.

Set in a remote, west Texas town of about 10,000, the 35-bed facility is almost empty. One of its biggest revenue makers, elective surgery, had been put on hold to save rooms for coronavirus patients. So far, the hospital has only had one. 

"We try to be positive and know that we're doing the right thing for the spread of this disease, but it's a financial strain for sure," said supervising RN Stephanie Smith.

Smith and her co-workers have taken pay cuts as the hospital struggles to balance its books. That's not easy, especially in small towns where young people are leaving and those who are older, poorer and sicker remain.

For 77-year-old Mila Gibson, who has respiratory problems, Rolling Plains is a lifeline. Gibson said that if Rolling Plains closed, she'd have to go to a hospital in Abilene, which is about an hour drive away.

When CBS News correspondent Janet Shamlian remarked that an hour is a long way to go for emergency care, Gibson replied, "it is, if you can't breathe or if you have a heart attack."

Nationwide, nearly 130 rural hospitals have shut down in the past decade, and many others are at risk of closing. That's a possibility Boatright must now consider.

"I am called to serve," Boatright said tearfully. "This is our home, and we want to do well."