(CHILLICOTHE, Mo.) At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, rural hospitals managed to sidestep the high number of coronavirus cases urban hospitals were experiencing.
That's no longer the case. Heading into the holiday season, Missouri's rural hospitals are reaching their tipping point.
“If we don’t step up in rural America and be prepared to address this challenge and take the necessary precautions, I think we’re really going to have a rampant outbreak in our communities,” said Steve Schieber, CEO of Hedrick Medical Center.
Tuesday, Steve Schieber, CEO of Hedrick Medical Center in Chillicothe, took to Facebook to plead with rural Missourians to take the virus seriously as the area hospital approaches its 21 bed capacity.
As of Wednesday, only two ICU beds left open.
"I don't want to create false alarms for people, but we are at a point where we are concerned about being so overwhelmed that we cannot provide the care we want for our patients," said Schieber.
Rural hospitals often transfer critical patients to urban hospitals, but those larger hospitals are on the brink of capacity too.
"If we're full and those metropolitan facilities are full, we are really in a stressful situation. Healthcare professionals always rise to the occasion, but I don't think people can underestimate the crisis we could be in if we don't take steps to help prevent that each in our daily lives," said Schieber.
Hedrick Medical Center is asking rural Missourians to socially distance and wear a mask.
Schieber said the area hospital is working with the county health department to mandate masks.
“We really are all in this together and that’s one of the things I love about rural America is the focus on community and being neighbors, being all together. I think this is an opportunity to do that,” said Schieber.
As of last update on Tuesday, Livingston Health Department reported 655 total cases since the start of the pandemic, with 70 current active cases.
There are 15 hospitalizations countywide.
In total, Livingston county has had 17 people die.