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COVID impact on rural ND hospitals still present three years later



Rugby, North Dakota – The COVID-19 virus was one of the biggest unknowns three years ago.

Since then, a lot has changed in the globe, but obstacles still exist, forcing healthcare professionals to change.

Your News Leader sees some of the significant adjustments and effects it has had on a rural hospital since then.

Dustin Hager, a physician assistant at the Heart of America Medical Center, recalled not understanding the challenges facing the medical industry.

“We were hopeful that the virus would burn itself out or the virus would move through the population at a quick pace, and it would be done quickly,” said Hager.

The attitude about healthcare has changed the most in the post-pandemic era, according to Erik Christenson, CEO of the hospital in Rugby.

“There was a lot of talk about, we don’t need all these hospitals. There are too many hospital beds. When COVID came, we didn’t have enough hospital beds,” said Christenson.

The shortage of medical experts that plagued hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes back then still exists today. According to Christenson, 15% of geriatric nurses quit their jobs.

“Environmental services, housekeepers, folks that want to clean the facility. Kitchen staff. I mean, we’re finding that there’s a struggle across the entire healthcare system,” said Christenson.

It has been difficult to fill those positions because some of the custodians haven’t come back, according to hospital authorities.

“A lot of places have staffed bed, they have more licensed beds, but they can’t fill all of them because they don’t have enough staff,” said Christenson.

Hager stated that his responsibility as a doctor is to educate patients so they may make educated decisions about their care before, through, and after the worst of COVID.

“It’s hard. There’s a lot of regulations. You’re held to a very high standard, but in my mind, there’s nothing more rewarding than helping your friends and neighbors who are sick or ill,” said Hager.

He claimed to have observed a resurgence in the frequency of visits for childcare and preventative care.

In terms of telehealth services, Christenson claimed that there is now a national campaign to increase the under-reimbursement of rural health clinics.