Rural hospitals rely on elective procedures to stay open during pandemic
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Medical students assist with Coronavirus testing in Jackson
Kobee Vance, MPB News

Coronavirus cases are increasing in Mississippi as Elective surgeries are resuming, and rural hospitals are trying to balance care and business to survive the pandemic.

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There are 485 people hospitalized in Mississippi with the Coronavirus, and 148 patients are in ICU. Health officials are concerned the increasing number of COVID-19 hospitalizations could stress the state’s healthcare system. Hospitals had been asked to cease all elective surgeries to allow for more space to treat Coronavirus patients. Now that policy has been relaxed, and State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs says some facilities are becoming strained. “I’m increasingly getting notified from doctors across the state that they’re not able to get patients to care within their hospital and they’re being stressed to transfer them, especially to places that are not their normal transfer locations," said Dr. Dobbs.

Ryan Kelly is Executive Director of the Mississippi Rural Healthcare Association. He says the pause on elective procedures almost shut down rural hospitals. “They were worried about ‘How are we going to keep our staff hired? How are we going to keep these wings alive?’ And so you saw hospitals that were down as barebones as they possibly could," says Kelly. "And that gets us worried that if there is a massive outbreak, they’re not going to be large enough and robust enough to treat the patients.”

Timothy Moore, President of the Mississippi Hospitals Association, says it if a surge of patients does happen, it would be better to deal with it on a hospital-by-hospital basis and not shut down elective procedures across the state. He says hospitals have plans that could increase ICU capacity, isolate patients and obtain more ventilators if needed. “And if there have to be alternatives in treating traditional patients while they take care of a COVID-19 surge, hospitals will be able to adapt to that and make that work as well," says Moore.

Officials say the only way to prevent a wave of cases is to follow public health guidance, such as wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.