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Utah’s Rural Hospitals Brace for Influx of Coronavirus Cases

Almost one third of Utah's population lives in rural parts of the state, and will depend on a network of rural hospitals in case they are affected by the coronavirus pandemic. (SQuintans/AdobeStock)
Almost one third of Utah's population lives in rural parts of the state, and will depend on a network of rural hospitals in case they are affected by the coronavirus pandemic. (SQuintans/AdobeStock)
March 27, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY - In the COVID-19 pandemic, where you live in Utah could be a major factor in your chances of surviving a bout of new coronavirus.

Almost one-third of Utah's 3.2 million residents live outside of the Salt Lake City metro area and are served by a network of 21 rural hospitals and 14 rural clinics. While the majority of Utah cases have so far occurred in urban areas, public health officials are concerned that a surge in the number of serious cases could overwhelm rural facilities.

Greg Rosenvall is the rural hospital development director for the Utah Hospital Association. He says they are limited in their ability to treat patients in serious condition.

"The rural hospitals in Utah are planning to try to take care of some inpatients," says Rosenvall. "But if those patients go into more of an acuity status where ventilators are needed, they're not going to be able to handle many of them."

He says while some of Utah's rural hospitals have been ranked among the best in the country, there is only so much critical care they can provide.

Rosenvall says that with more serious cases, rural hospitals will send patients to larger hospitals if they have the capacity.

"We're relying heavily on the ability of the urban hospitals to take transports" says Rosenvall, "and if they lose the ability to do that, then that could be a serious concern."

Rosenvall adds that small hospitals often operate on a slim margin, and now that state health officials have banned elective surgeries and other non-essential treatments, not providing those services could cut into their bottom line.

"The Utah rural hospitals, relatively, have done very well" says Rosenvall. "We haven't had any closures in the state, but I think that in everybody's mind, if this prolongs for an extended period, it could start impacting cash reserves and cash flow."

Of Utah's 400-plus coronavirus cases to date, about 300 have been in Salt Lake and Summit counties, with the rest spread across the rural parts of the state. As of yesterday, state officials had not issued a stay-at-home order for Utah citizens similar to nearby states such as Idaho, Colorado and California.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT