By Associated Press - Sunday, November 29, 2020

HOLTON, Kan. (AP) - Small rural hospitals in Kansas and Missouri are increasingly spending hours searching for facilities they can transfer patients to because they are struggling to cope with the surge in coronavirus cases.

As the region’s hospitals fill up with COVID-19 patients, smaller hospitals like the one in Holton, Kansas, are finding it difficult to treat patients who don’t have the disease but still need care.

“People don’t just stop having heart attacks or those sorts of things,” said Carrie Saia, CEO of the hospital in Holton, which is about 30 miles north of Topeka, Kansas. “I just worry that we’re going to be so consumed that we’re not really able to care for some emergency that comes in.”

The urban and rural health care systems in Missouri and Kansas are intertwined, with smaller hospitals identifying which patients need more advanced care and transferring them to larger facilities in bigger cities, the Kansas City Star reported. But lately, smaller hospitals have been spending hours searching for beds for their patients in larger facilities in places such as Wichita, Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield, Missouri.

When COVID-19 patients stress the capacity of smaller hospitals, it makes it harder to care for patients with heart attacks, strokes or other serious conditions.

“Those patients, when they come through our doors, honestly that’s a little more scary than COVID,” said Valarie Davis who is the administrator of Mercy’s smaller hospitals in Cassville and Aurora, Missouri. “We have to get them somewhere as quick as we possibly can.”

And rural hospital administrators increasingly worry about how the surge in patients is affecting their nurses and doctors.

“I’ve had one of the nurses literally break down right in front of me because of her concern for one of the patients, which is a wonderful thing but it takes a toll on the staff,” said Dennis Franks, CEO of the 25-bed Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center in Chanute, Kansas. “They’re working a lot.”

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