Shenandoah Medical Center, SMC Hospital

Shenandoah Medical Center

(Shenandoah) -- As COVID-19 hospitalization rates surge in Iowa, the pandemic is continuing to stress critical access hospitals in rural areas.

On Wednesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 777 patients hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 with 185 of those requiring an ICU bed. The hospitalization numbers in Iowa are the highest the state has seen since December of last year. Matt Sells is CEO of Shenandoah Medical Center. He says the increase in COVID patients throughout the state has an impact on rural facilities.

"I would say the largest impact has really been the difficulties that our staff face when they need to transfer patients to a higher level of care," said Sells. "With staffing challenges and a large increase in the acute census in the city hospitals has really prevented a lot of those facilities from accepting patients in a timely fashion. That's forced our staff to take care of sicker patients for a longer period of time. Thus far, I'd say the team has come together and done a really great job of taking care of our patients and providing good care, but it's certainly a stressful time for everybody."

As the pandemic nears its third year, the continued stress has also caused an exodus of staff from the health care field entirely. Much like other business sectors, Sells says hospitals are struggling to fill open positions.

"We've seen nationwide more people leave the health care industry over the last year than we've ever seen before," said Sells. "The nationwide nursing shortage definitely has impacted us, especially on the acute side of our facility. We continue to recruit for a number of open nursing positions. We've had to use some contract labor and things like that to make sure that we're able to fill all of our gaps."

Sells says the pandemic has also impacted day-to-day operations at the facility.

"It really has changed the way we operate in a lot of ways," said Sells. "Our staff are required to mask when they are within six feet of patients and fellow coworkers. We continue to navigate challenges like the health care worker vaccination mandate, which is currently on hold due to a legal battle."

Sells credits the staff at SMC for their dedication throughout the pandemic.

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