Palo Pinto County

COVID-19 Pushes Rural Hospitals in Texas to ‘Absolute Limit'

In Palo Pinto County, one of every 22 people has tested positive

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Rural hospitals across Texas are being “pushed to the absolute limit” with mounting COVID-19 cases, according to an industry trade group.

“Rural hospitals are holding up but every week is harder and they are being pushed to the absolute limit,” said John Henderson, president of the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals.

West and Northwest Texas are getting hit the hardest, but “everyone is trending in the wrong direction,” Henderson said Thursday.

In Mineral Wells, Palo Pinto General Hospital is like other small-town hospitals – overwhelmed.

"We started out with one or two rooms in our ICU that were considered our COVID rooms,” said chief nurse Amy Waller. “Now six out of six rooms are our COVID rooms."

The hospital is treating a total of 14 COVID-19 patients right now, she said.

Its five ventilators weren't enough, so the hospital managed to rent four more.

Only a few beds are left.

"And that's it,” hospital CEO Ross Korkmas said.

He isn't sure what they'll do if more patients show up.

"It becomes very scary. It becomes very difficult to handle,” Korkmas said.

The numbers are startling. Palo Pinto County's population is under 30,000. And it's seen more than 1,300 confirmed cases of COVID.

That means one out of every 22 people in the county have had the virus. The number is likely higher considering not everyone infected gets tested.

More than 30 have died, according to official county figures.

"We're doing OK. Our staff, they're tired,” Waller said. “They're stressed. But overall they're supporting each other."

Waller has been a nurse more than 25 years.

"It's the most unique experience I've had in my career,” she said. “I've never seen anything like this before."

The hospital’s chief executive said it’s hard to get extra staff or transfer patients when so many other hospitals are also stressed.

"You're not immune being in rural Texas from this virus and the hospitals aren't immune either and hospitals around us are facing the same challenges we are,” Korkmas said.

He said he fears the next few weeks will continue to be challenging because of people getting together for the holidays and the virus spreading.

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