COVID-19 stresses rural hospital capacity

Wishek Hospital
The South Central Health hospital at Wishek has been operating at capacity with COVID-19 cases during a recent surge in the area. Submitted photo

Surges in COVID-19 cases in five rural counties in south-central North Dakota have stretched the capacity of health care facilities in the area.

The counties of Emmons, Logan, McIntosh, Dickey and LaMoure have an average of 113.8 active cases per 10,000 residents. The average for the state of North Dakota is 48.8 active cases per 10,000 residents.

"We are seeing increasing numbers at our clinics in McIntosh, Logan and LaMoure counties," said Shelly Glaesman, director of quality assurance at South Central Health in Wishek. "It challenges our capacity, but it also creates problems because we cannot transport our critical patients because the hospitals in the bigger cities are full."

McIntosh County had a rate of 104 patients considered active with COVID-19 per 10,000 residents, according to the North Dakota Department of Health Coronavirus Dashboard on Wednesday afternoon. A rate of 100 cases per 10,000 residents would statistically indicate that 1% of the residents of the county are ill with the coronavirus at this time.

Glaesman said South Central Health's hospital at Wishek is licensed for 24 patients but only staffed for six to eight, depending on the severity of the illnesses. It also operates clinics at Wishek, Napoleon, Gackle and Kulm.


"Right now, 100% of our patients are at our facility for COVID," she said. "Either being treated or waiting for test results."

Glaesman said this doesn't leave any medical capacity to treat any other health problems an individual in the area may have.

In Dickey County, officials are continuing to test to determine how widespread active coronavirus cases are, according to Roxanne Holm, unit administrator for Dickey County Public Health.

Dickey County currently has 62 active cases, but that translates to 110 cases per 10,000 residents based on a population of 5,289 people.

Holm said the first mass testing on Sept. 28 revealed 35 positive results of the 152 people tested. An Oct. 2 test resulted in eight positive tests in 58 people tested.

"I hope people get the message we're not testing just to be testing," she said. "We test to slow the spread of the disease. To find the positive people (infected with the coronavirus) and help prevent the spread."

Robin Iszler, unit administrator for Central Valley Health District, which is the public health agency for Stutsman and Logan counties, said it is easy for the statistics from the smaller counties to get lost in the higher numbers reported by larger counties.

"The numbers are small in comparison but the population in these areas is low as well and the population in our region tend to be those with the highest risk to severe complications from COVID – elderly or aging," Iszler said.


Iszler and Glaesman said at least part of the increase in cases could be traced to large family gatherings.

"The recent surge occurred in the last three weeks," Glaesman said. "Some of the people we're seeing are directly related to a couple of weddings that have taken place."

Holm felt the surge in Dickey County cases could be related to students returning to school, including those at Trinity Bible College in Ellendale.

She estimated about two-thirds of the cases came from close contact or household contact with an infected individual. Holm also said quarantining after a positive test doesn't have to feel like a jail sentence.

"Just stay away from people, at least 6 feet away from people," she said. "We had one person ask if they could go fishing. They can go fishing or go for a walk, but just stay away from people."

Glaesman said there is a need to get the coronavirus surge under control for the rural counties. Currently, schools in the area are continuing school in the classrooms with a few students distance learning.

"People need to start following the ND Smart guidelines and wearing masks," she said.

That will require public education and a change in public perception.


"All we can do is try the best you can and hope your employees stay safe," Glaesman said.

What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads