How Rural Hospitals and Health Systems Prepare for COVID-19

three nurses standing together with full gear on

COVID-19 has hit first and the hardest in big cities. But rural areas across the U.S. are starting to see more cases. Health care teams at Community HealthCare System in Onaga, Kansas — like those at many rural hospitals and health systems — have been watching what’s happening in urban areas and doing all they can to prepare.

In a recent article in the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC) Journal, Sarah Caldwell Hancock, communications manager at the health system and member of its COVID-19 response team, describes how planning, coordination, partnerships — and even humor — have helped Community HealthCare System prepare to care for patients with COVID-19. The preparation has paid off now that northeast Kansas is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Maintaining adequate supplies, such as personal protective equipment and ventilators, is a priority and concern, as the health system works with community partners to acquire N95 masks, gowns, gloves and face shields. Finding creative solutions to modify existing space and expand capacity, if ever needed, also is important. As Hancock points out, hospitals and health systems regularly conduct drills and exercises to prepare for emergency situations and disasters. “Now we’re reading harrowing accounts of a real-world med surge, and we’re bracing for one here,” she writes.

Community HealthCare System relies on guidelines from the Kansas Hospital Association and the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment, plus collaborates with other local, state and regional partners on everything from supplies to information on regulatory changes during the pandemic.

Effective communication with employees, patients and communities is key in all of these efforts. Hancock says the health system has established a “labor pool working group to inventory skill sets and cross-training potential.” Health care teams are reaching out to vulnerable patients and those receiving home health care to ensure everyone in their communities is receiving important information about COVID-19 as well as care for health and social needs.

Read the KLC Journal article about Community HealthCare System and COVID-19.

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