As you are well aware, the current Coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc with the American healthcare system. The reports of full ICUs, ventilator shortages, and overflowing morgues have made a previously stable landscape look like something out of a bad Hollywood movie. Many hospitals are at or past the breaking point with exhausted staff and resources.
I would like to point out a perhaps lesser-known effect of this pandemic on rural hospitals.
Since the beginning of shelter in place orders and lockdowns, many smaller hospitals in rural areas that are less affected by COVID have essentially shut down in order to be at peak readiness for any oncoming surge of patients. Hospitals like Healdsburg District Hospital are small critical access hospitals that depend greatly on the normal flow of patients to elective surgery, outpatient primary care, work health, wound care, and occupational medicine. This flow of patients has effectively ceased. Even the Emergency Rooms are much less busy as patients are fearful of coming in for non-COVID type of illness for fear of becoming infected.
As a result, these hospitals finds themselves in an extremely precarious financial position with the very real possibility of needing to close in the near future. This is not the typical “we need to cut corners” type of financial shortfall. It is an existential threat. In our case, we have already “tightened our belt” substantially with many furloughs of employees and staff and physicians electing to work for no pay until the crisis passes. Even so, we have very little time left before all cash reserves are depleted.
Obviously this is not the only rural hospital in this situation and it is equally obvious that the loss of these healthcare resources at a time when an oncoming surge of very sick patients may be imminent would be disastrous. Death from COVID infection is already much too high, but to lose American lives because hospitals are closing during this crisis would be tragic.
Our hospitals want to stay open.
Our hospitals want to care for our community.
Our hospitals want to be ready for the pandemic surge.
We would ask that you give serious consideration to providing emergency funding for our hospital and others in this situation.
Joseph Tito, MD
Chief of Surgery
Healdsburg District Hospital