'The calm before the storm': Inside a rural hospital in Illinois, which spent a month preparing for the coronavirus before dealing with a single case
Before its first case of the coronavirus, a rural hospital in Jerseyville, Illinois was preparing for the coronavirus by limiting visitors, running drive-thru respiratory clinics, and screening staff before they enter the building. It was also rescheduling all non-urgent surgeries and procedures, which could take a financial toll on the hospital and its employees. In rural areas, resources and test kits are scarce as the country focuses its efforts on urban hotspots. Jersey Community Hospital has only four ventilators and four ICU beds to treat severe cases of COVID-19. View more episodes of Business Insider Today on Facebook.
JERSEYVILLE, ILLINOIS — As hospitals around the country struggle with the influx of coronavirus patients, one rural hospital in Illinois was preparing for the coronavirus for most of March — despite having no confirmed cases in the area yet. Hallways and rooms are empty as Jersey Community Hospital, which is about an hour north of St. Louis and four hours south of Chicago, has been limiting visitors. "It's almost like the calm before the storm," said Carrie Beiser, a nurse who's worked at the hospital for four years. "I think everybody's just waiting in anticipation for something to change." The day after Business Insider Today interviewed hospital staff on March 31, a resident of Jersey County tested positive. He is currently the first and only confirmed positive COVID-19 patient to be treated at Jersey Community Hospital. With the country's attention focused on urban hotspots like New York City, where hospitals are already struggling with the resources to treat coronavirus patients, rural hospitals have had to face their own challenges with scarcity. Jersey Community Hospital has only four ventilators and four ICU beds. Healthcare workers worry the hospital could be easily overwhelmed.
"Our worst-case scenario is we have a hundred people coming through our emergency department every day who are very sick and we have to find a place to put them," Beth King, the Chief Financial Officer and interim Chief Executive Officer of the hospital, told Business Insider Today. The demographic of the community is already more at risk. "We tend to be older," said Dr. Michael McNear, the Chief Medical Officer of Jersey Community Hospital. "The people tend to have more chronic conditions. It makes it a more difficult patient population to care for." There aren't enough test kits to go around, so doctors have had to be judicious about the 70 they have. "We could have used them up the first day if we had wanted to," Dr. McNear told Business Insider Today. "That has caused a lot of angst in the community, I would say, because everybody wants to be tested right now. We just don't have that capability yet." The hospital is still waiting for 100 test kits that it requested a month ago to arrive.
In the meantime, the hospital has been doing what it can to keep the community safe, including screening staff before they enter the building, conducting more telehealth visits, maintaining a COVID-19 hotline, running a drive-thru respiratory clinic for local residents, and rescheduling some procedures. "Surgeries have all been halted unless they're an emergency surgery," King said. "Our clinic visits are cut in half. I would say our volumes across the board are down 50% to 60%." King worries about how the hospital's finances could affect the town's economy. "The financial support that our hospital provides to the community through paying people's paychecks and suppliers that we purchase supplies from — how we react to this could have a community impact," said King. For many doctors and nurses at Jersey Community Hospital, patients aren't strangers. "You treat people you know," said Carly Schroeder, a nurse in the emergency department. "They're like your family. You get to build that rapport with your patients that you normally probably wouldn't get at a bigger hospital." "My parents live across the street," Dr. McNear told Business Insider Today. "If my father has a heart attack, my mom has a stroke, this is where they're coming. Every single person here, if their friends, their family gets sick, this is where they're coming first." "I see the physicians and the nurses in these large, urban hospitals working, and it's amazing what they're doing and what they're going through," he added. "We're not there yet and we're sort of waiting." "Sometimes I feel like, you know, this war against this virus, we're sort of a reserve unit, and we're sitting back here, and we're prepared, and we have training, and we have equipment." "We haven't been called into battle yet."SEE ALSO: What it's like to get coronavirus in New York City, from diagnosis to treatment and recovery SEE ALSO: Thousands of scientists in Sweden are criticizing the government for not implementing a lockdown to stop the coronavirus Join the conversation about this story »