Emergency Care in Rural Areas During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Rural emergency care is complex and was already challenging before the start of the pandemic. In fact, 2019 was a record year for rural hospital closures as 119 facilities shut their doors. Today, a quarter of rural hospitals are at high risk of closing and more than 350 rural hospitals across 40 states are vulnerable.

Patients in rural areas face unique challenges whether they are managing multiple conditions or simply more at risk given the limited number of health service providers or nearby primary care options. At the same time, many people living in rural communities continue to work in essential roles that do not afford them the luxury of remote work and put them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, such as agriculture or manufacturing.

According to a recent study, the nation’s rural emergency physician shortage is expected to worsen in the coming years, the authors note. Of the 48,835 clinically active emergency physicians in the United States, 92 percent (44,908) practice in urban areas with just 8 percent (3,927) practicing in rural communities, down from 10 percent in 2008.

Nearly one in five Americans rely on rural health care and emergency physicians in these areas encounter many of the same challenges as their colleagues who practice in larger cities with more resources; staffing shortages, lack of available personal protective equipment, limited COVID-19 testing capacity, or drug shortages, to name a few.

“Emergency physicians are the sentinels of America’s emergency care safety net. Now more than ever we need to rally behind our health care heroes, and that means ensuring they have the resources and support they need as they fight this protracted battle.” said William Jaquis, MD, FACEP, former president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) stated in a press release.

If you live in a rural area stay informed and be prepared for the need to visit the emergency department in your community for any medical emergency.

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