Rural Hospitals face new challenges as COVID related hospitalizations rise

REEDSBURG, Wis. — An increase in COVID-19 related hospitalization and lack of bed availability means rural hospitals are having to care for patients they would typically transfer to other hospitals.

Staff at Reedsburg Area Medical Center in Sauk County said they’re making upwards of 40 calls per day to hospitals across the Midwest to try and secure a spot for their patients only to be waitlisted.

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“We’ve just had to change the way that we’re doing things,” said Reedsburg Medical President Robert Van Meeteren. “In the past, two years ago, it was unlikely for us to keep an intubated patient in our facility; now this is a common occurrence for us.”

Van Meeteren also said as a result hospital staff have been stepping up and learning a lot to fill the gap.

“We’re having to ask a number of questions, we’re having to reach out to other physicians, other experts in the field to get the best advice because there are things that we are not equipped or trained to do,” he explained.

Reedsburg Medical’s Chief Operating Officer Teresa Field said at their hospital they’re taking care of their friends and neighbors which makes the bed shortages even tougher to manage.

“It’s very difficult to know that maybe we want to get this patient somewhere else to get a surgery that we can’t provide here or a specialist that we can’t provide but that isn’t necessarily always a possibility right now,” she said.

It’s a problem made more difficult by the staffing shortages in health care and though Reedsburg Medical has offered bonuses, used traveler staff and temporary agencies, like many facilities, they’re still coming up short.

“We need respiratory therapists, we need great respiratory help. Radiology techs, lab technicians, everybody,” Van Meeteren said.

In a county where 43 percent of the population is unvaccinated, Reedsburg Medical staff said they’ll hang on as long as they need to.

“That’s the pledge that we have but it definitely is going to be difficult,” Field said.

According to Field, more patients at Reedsburg Medical are being admitted with Covid-19 than any other diagnosis.

She said the best thing people can do to help staff manage the bed shortages, in addition to getting vaccinated, is to prioritize their primary care.

This means keeping up with regular doctor’s appointments to manage conditions so they don’t become bigger problems that land people in the hospital.