Lessons learned in real time at rural hospitals during pandemic

Quicker planning. Working together as networks. Focused staff deployment. The COVID-19 pandemic is giving hospital administrators and their healthcare providers ample opportunity in real time to learn new best practices to delivering medical care. 

The quick fixes they’ve tried since the pandemic broke have included more reliance on telemedicine, communicating frequently with the public and an old standard: getting government money. This story is part of a nationwide collaboration of Institute for Nonprofit News members examining the effect COVID-19 is having on rural health care.

Stimulus money was only a short-term fix as rural hospitals brace for the next COVID-19 surges

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 like Waterloo, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but also smaller Iowa towns like Tama, Columbus Junction and Perry. 

Leaders at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center in Storm Lake, a northwest Iowa town of 10,500 with a Tyson Foods packing plant, knew their time would come. “We just didn’t know to what degree,” Rob Colerick, the hospital CEO and administrator, said. “I mean, you saw it in Columbus Junction. You saw it in Waterloo.