Rural Nebraska hospitals anxious as state’s COVID-19 cases increase

    Cases of COVID-19 in Nebraska have increased by more than 50% since mid-October and the spread is impacting rural hospitals.
    As of Oct. 27, less than 40% of hospital beds and only 36% of intensive care unit beds are available, according to Nebraska’s COVID-19 dashboard.
    Given the increase in cases, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Oct. 16 that large indoor gatherings must be at 50% of the maximum capacity and no more than eight people can be seated together at a restaurant.
    The majority of the state’s hospital beds are located in Lincoln and Omaha, and according to Nebraska Hospital Association’s Vice President of Advocacy Andy Hale, rural hospitals send their more serious patients to Omaha and Lincoln.
    However, as those beds fill up, Nebraska’s smaller hospitals with fewer ventilators, fewer beds and fewer staff members, cannot send their critical patients there.
    “They’re anxious,” Hale said of smaller hospitals. “Are they going to be able to transfer patients from their facilities to other hospitals? That’s their biggest concern.”
    Chuck Seper, chief public health officer at East Central Health District based in Columbus, said transfers are helpful to the district’s hospitals because they allow more beds to be available for emergency health events, such as a car crash.
    The staff works long hours to treat all patients, and the pandemic has been quite stressful for them, said Seper, and hospitals have attempted to accommodate employees by shortening their shifts.
    Ricketts allocated $40 million of funding from the CARES Act toward hiring traveling nurses. Hale said he appreciates the effort to relieve hospital staff from their duties, but acknowledged that hiring traveling nurses will not be easy. Hospitals across the country are battling the coronavirus, and people will want to spend time with their family as the holiday season approaches.
    Plus, Nebraska winters may deter some nurses.
    “To be honest, if you can go to Florida or California or Arizona or Nebraska during the winter months, where are you more inclined to go because of the weather?” he asked.
    “There’s some obstacles we’re facing that there’s nothing we can do about.”
    New directed health measures state that hospitals must have 10% of their beds open if they want to continue to perform elective procedures or surgeries.

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