Rural healthcare systems struggle amid the pandemic

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BINGHAMTON, NY – The coronavirus pandemic has brought renewed attention to the challenges facing rural healthcare systems.

Most rural hospitals have a limited number of critical access beds and have long faced difficulty recruiting and retaining nurses.

Binghamton University Professor Pam Stewart Fahs holds the Decker Chair in Rural Nursing.

Fahs says 112 rural hospitals nationwide have closed in the past 10 years and the remaining ones are often operating close to the margins.

She says there’s also been a reduction in beds with most designed to only hold critical patients for up to 4 days before transferring them to a larger regional facility.

“If you have a situation where someone gets into severe respiratory distress, that can happen very quickly. So, transfer time can be a factor in people’s overall health and their ability to get to a larger hospital,” says Fahs.

Fahs says she hopes the healthcare system nationally is able to restore more capacity to rural hospitals following the pandemic, especially so they’re better able to triage patients in the event of a crisis.

And she’d like to see greater investment in public health systems.

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