COVID-19 is not just spreading on the Front Range. It is gaining momentum in rural counties, and as of April 1, 50 of Colorado’s 64 counties have reported positive cases. Before this outbreak, many rural hospitals were already operating on slim margins with limited access to excess equipment and few specialized staff, if any. 

Those constraints are becoming more apparent as COVID-19 spreads out of the metro areas and into our rural communities. Rural hospitals around the state are bracing for a rush of patients needing care for the incredibly contagious virus and have a limited capacity to treat critical care patients in the face of an outbreak. In a recent report, CoBank predicted that peak hospital demand for resources will occur between April 13 – 20. Some rural hospitals, such as SLVHealth, have increased their ICU bed numbers and are training primary care providers and general practice staff to serve as hospital specialists.

But it’s a double edged sword. Many have canceled surgeries and primary care visits, making it difficult to survive with the decreased revenue. 

“We’ve got 18 rural hospitals operating in the red right now, so any loss of revenue is going to be felt hard, and felt for a long time,” said Michelle Mills, CEO of the Colorado Rural Health Center, in a recent article from the Colorado Sun.

The situation if these hospitals are overrun with critical patients is a scary one. Healthcare providers cite the lack of needed supplies and equipment like gloves, facemasks, and respirators as additional stress on rural healthcare facilities. Rural hospitals from Idaho to Colorado and Wyoming are already facing pressure and reporting lack of test kits, equipment and staff according to the Wall Street Journal. The town of Lander, WY is even facing a population with infection rates approaching those in New York. 

Right now, rural Coloradans need to do their part in protecting these institutions. While agriculture and other ‘critical’ businesses are continuing to operate, everyone should limit contact with those around them.  Follow along on your local hospital’s website, social media or other communications and see how you can help. Monetary donations, protective gear  donations and sending food are always appreciated, but most importantly: 

Stay home, stay healthy and stay out of the hospital.