Each week, I must decide on the subject of my next post. The pace of news has been so hectic that most often there are a wide range of topics to choose from. The downside of this reality is that it leaves little time to probe the depths of ongoing stories that lie just beyond the front page and yet tell a more inclusive tale—sometimes in a dramatic way, from policing to the pandemic—of life in the US.
When you live in the northeast, the plight of rural America can easily slip between the cracks in pavement overheated by the cauldron of headlines from Trump’s Tulsa rally to the unsettled economy. The pace of New York life—even during a lock down—can blind us to the day-to-day experience of countless Americans who live and love, work and worship in small towns across this land.
A frequent theme in my weekly posts is the need for empathy, something in terribly short supply in the current administration. Time to practice what I preach, no? So I decided to take my own advice and look at the drama unfolding in rural areas during the current health emergency. I didn’t have to look far as I encountered a devastating article by health care workers, Donna Boatright and Jennifer Lietdke, from Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital in Sweetwater, Texas.
In Texas, 6 Critically Ill Covid-19 Patients Would Overwhelm This Hospital
The title of the article was like a sucker punch, quickly grabbing my attention. With coronavirus cases spiking in Texas, and rural communities bracing for the onslaught of patients, the struggle that awaits doctors, nurses and health care professionals in these settings is both striking and heart-wrenching, like a real-life horror movie about to explode.
They write, “Rural hospitals in America have been fighting for survival for years, mostly because of their relatively high numbers of uninsured patients. Approximately 130 rural hospitals in America have closed over the past decade, leaving millions of Americans without health care nearby. Texas has had more hospital closures than any other state. And the pandemic, by forcing providers to cancel elective procedures with high insurance reimbursement rates, has pushed many of its remaining hospitals to the brink of bankruptcy.”
The article is powerful enough, but—dear readers—I strongly encourage you to watch the accompanying eight-minute video and place yourself in the shoes of these front-line workers who know the assault is on the way.
At a time when the US “re-opens,” so many have cast aside the rules of social distancing. Wearing masks—one of the proven ways to slow the virus—has become a political statement, where selfishness trumps concern for others. In the desperate desire to return to some form of normalcy, not following social distancing guidelines jeopardizes both front-line workers and vulnerable family members who have been the most frequent victims of this pandemic.
Back in March, my community—the New York metropolitan region—was reeling under the strain of being the worldwide epicenter of the virus, revealing countless expressions of bravery and self-sacrifice as outsiders dismissed it as a “New York thing.” Knowledgeable experts warned that the virus would strike in waves across the country and though New York may have been the first in the US to suffer its ravages, it would certainly not be the last.
And now we see this bleak prophecy coming true in rural communities that have little in common with large metropolitan regions in the American northeast. Boatwright and Liedtke’s article is a stark reminder that we are truly all in this together, whether here in New York or in Sweetwater, Texas.
Donna Boatright is the former chief executive officer of Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital. She retired on June 12, 2020.
Jennifer Liedtke is a family physician at Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital.