“I can’t imagine”: Rural hospitals and staff straining as they fight COVID-19

Health Check

ONAGA, Kan. (KSNT) – Hospital workers in northeast Kansas are being strained as they battle the coronavirus, including those working in rural hospitals.

Lacey Niehues is the nurse manager for the Community HealthCare System in rural Onaga. Her nurses work in multiple departments, unlike larger healthcare facilities.

“Our nurses are taking care of not just the floor patients or the patients that are on the medical floor,” Niehues said. “They also take care of the ER patients, the outpatients, the OB patients. Our nurses, they wear many hats.”

Those nurses, and the other healthcare workers within the hospital, are having to take on more as the coronavirus pandemic continues. More patients are being seen within the emergency rooms and occupying hospital beds, causing the staff to work many long days.

“We look at them as an employee, but we also look at them as a person and I can’t imagine some of the struggles that they’ve been dealing with at home as well,” Niehues said.

If the hospital’s staff need to transfer a high-risk patient to another facility, Niehues said it can be difficult to find one with an open bed.

In hope of reducing this problem, the hospital has tried to work with these facilities in offering to take some of their low-risk patients.

“I’ve been asked by these larger hospitals ‘Does it matter if they’re from your county?,'” Chief Nursing Officer Mindy Olberding said. “I said, ‘No, our providers are willing to look at whatever we can. If we think we can meet that person’s need we will help because we know it could be our patient that needs that bed that’s in the ICU that they can’t get somebody out of the ICU to fill.'”

As for ways people in the rural community can help their local hospitals, Olberding said staying safe and following local health guidelines is all it takes.

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