Coronavirus cases have continued to soar in South Dakota. The situation comes as rural health-care systems in the U-S struggle to survive. Among Midwestern states, South Dakota isn't alone in seeing the virus infect more people, but it still is near the top nationally in weekly cases per-capita. Brock Slabach, of the National Rural Health Association, says a big concern now in the U-S is rural areas, where community spread has been hard to control. Making matters worse, it's been difficult for residents in these areas to access care.
He says rural providers are seeing "fractures" being widened in these communities. He cites staffing, supplies and lack of reimbursements as critical problems for hospitals. South Dakota is seeing a record number of hospitalizations for COVID. And a facility in the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe was recently forced to send two coronavirus patients to an out-of-state hospital.
Nationally, 15 rural hospitals have closed in the U-S this year. None have been in South Dakota, but Slabach says many systems in smaller communities face a severe cash crunch, leaving room for doubt about their future. He points to a pause in elective surgeries at the start of the pandemic and slow reimbursement payments, while adding it will be hard for them to improve their outlook in the near future.
He says part of the problem is that treating COVID patients can be very expensive, placing an even greater financial burden on facilities struggling to stay afloat. To get a handle on the immediate problem, he says increased testing and contact tracing in rural areas can help with case management, and potentially reducing demand for hospitalizations.
The Greater Dakota News Service contributed to this story.