WILLCOX, Ariz. - With large hospitals struggling to cope with a flood of COVID patient, how are small rural hospitals handling the strain? KGUN9 On Your Side talked with the CEO of a hospital that serves Willcox and the wide area around it.
Northern Cochise Community Hospital serves a small town and a rural population, not a densely packed city. That gave it a bit of a break from the early days of the COVID pandemic, but hospital CEO Mo Sheldon knew the virus would find its way to Willcox soon enough.
“We were watching the news and seeing what was happening elsewhere. You just prepare. You dig in and do what you can to prepare your staff, make sure that we have the supplies and equipment, and you do what you know how to do as a healthcare organization you take care of patients.”
In April, the hospital set up a triage tent to assess patients before they entered the hospital. The tent is gone now, replaced by a drive up COVID testing site.
As with most hospitals now, visitors must stay away.
Mo Sheldon says Northern Cochise Community Hospital is one of the smallest hospitals in Arizona. She says it has 24 beds and the entire town of Willcox has eight primary care doctors. So the area depends on strong working relationships with large hospitals in Tucson. Patients that need higher levels of care may transfer to Tucson by ambulance or helicopter.
Sheldon says, “Well, it is a small hospital we evaluate our patients to determine whether they're appropriate for us to keep them here or whether it's appropriate for them to be transferred to a large hospital, and also frequently, rural hospitals very small hospitals don't have the resources, the physical plant resources the financial resources that the larger hospitals.”
She says her hospital has been able to keep some COVID patients for treatment in Willcox, while others transferred to larger hospitals through the state hospital surge system.