Slammed: Rural Health Care And COVID-19

Side Effects Public Media is examining the effect of COVID-19 on rural health care as part of a collaboration with the Institute for Nonprofit News.

Rural areas are particularly vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19. Residents of these communities tend to be poorer, older and have more chronic health conditions than those in urban areas and they have to travel farther for access to health care. As the number of COVID-19 cases increases all over rural America, the already financially strapped health care systems and medical professionals are being slammed.

Other partners of the collaboration include Carolina Public Press, Iowa Watch, Wisconsin Watch and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Read the collaboration’s work here: Slammed: Rural health care and COVID-19.

Photo by Coburn Dukehart /Wisconsin Watch.

One by one, COVID-19 outbreaks popped up in April and May at meatpacking plants across the country, fanning fears that the infectious coronavirus could spread rapidly into rural states. Plants closed temporarily in small metro areas such as Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Waterloo, Iowa, and in smaller towns like Iowa’s Columbus Junction and Perry

Photo by: Bram Sable-Smith

There is just one hospital in western Indiana’s Vermillion County. The slender, 37-mile long county is dotted with corn and soybean fields, and driving from one end to the other would take nearly an hour. 

Union Hospital Clinton is small, only 25 beds, but it also serves parts of two neighboring counties. The area suffers from some of Indiana’s highest rates of heart attack and stroke. 

PRESTON KERES / U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Outbreaks at meat processing facilities have sickened workers and stalled production throughout the Midwest. Side Effects reporters Natalie Krebs (Iowa Public Radio) and Sebastián Martínez Valdivia (KBIA, Missouri), and Ohio Valley ReSource reporter Liam Niemeyer (WKMS, Kentucky) joined engagement specialist Brittani Howell on Facebook Live to talk about how the story has unfolded in their states. 

Spencer Pugh / Unsplash

Studies have found the rates of mental illness and suicide are higher for farmers. They work long hours, have limited social contact and are at the mercy of factors such as weather. Now the COVID-19 pandemic is creating even greater challenges to their livelihood—and mental health. 

Ferrell Hospital

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, some of the biggest outbreaks have been concentrated in urban areas, like New York City and Chicago. But rural America isn’t immune to the virus—and many areas are already dealing with a scarcity of health care.

Ferrell Hospital, in the Southern Illinois town of Eldorado, is bracing for coronavirus. Dr. Joseph Jackson, a physician at Ferrell, says the virus is sure to spread to rural areas like the ones his hospital serves.

Grinnell Regional Medical Center

This is part of Essential Voices, a series of interviews with people confronting COVID-19.

Hospitals across the Midwest have adjusted policies for the coronavirus crisis -- including limiting patient visitors. That can be especially hard when a patient is near death, and friends and relatives want to share a final goodbye. Dr. Lauren Graham speaks about those emotional moments at Grinnell Regional Medical Center in Iowa.

Michael Leland / Side Effects Public Media

Many of America’s rural counties have just a handful of COVID-19 cases. And health experts say that may be giving residents a false sense of security. Now, outbreaks at food processing plants could shake that complacency.

Missouri Highlands Healthcare

If someone gets sick in a seven county swath of the Ozarks of southeastern Missouri, the closest place they can go for care is a clinic run by Missouri Highlands Health Care. Highlands operates in some of the least populated and poorest counties in the state. Now, it’s cutting back.