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Rural hospitals adapt to new health demands amid COVID-19

Kaitlyn Riley

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Hospital activity is booming as healthcare professionals try to stifle the Coronavirus outbreak, and rural clinics are strategically working to help slow the spread.

Dr. Mary Kuffel is an obstetrician-gynecologist but also serves as the medical vice president for Operating Team 1 and Regional Systems which involves 22 counties in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. The clinics she works with are mostly family practice clinics.

“I’m privileged to help lead those clinics, the physicians and advanced practice clinicians that are out there,” Kuffel said.

She said the goal is to try to keep care close to home. In the wake of COVID-19, Gundersen recommended patients contact their primary caregiver first.

“The clinics are still staying pretty busy out there,” Kuffel said. “We’re trying to separate the days sometimes to put healthy, essential appointments that we need to see in one part of the day, and perhaps we put the people who aren’t so healthy in a different part of the day or a different part of the clinic depending on the size of the clinic.”

The rural areas do have access to Coronavirus testing, but availability depends on the situation. Kuffel said ambulatory cases arriving at a clinic will have to move on to larger areas such as Onalaska for testing. If a patient is admitted to a rural hospital and requires testing, then it will be available. However, test materials are in limited supply, so patients are asked to call so they can screen the symptoms.

Kuffel recognized patients in rural areas may not have access to the internet or ways to research COVID-19 online, but she said the majority can communicate via phone and be counseled on whether or not to stay home.

Although rural areas are not seeing as large of a shortage of masks and personal protective equipment, according to Kuffel, Gundersen Health System in La Crosse announced staff members are seeking donations of supplies or money to purchase what they need. Homemade masks will be accepted, but they have to meet the criteria set down by Gundersen. Anyone interested in making masks should contact the Gundersen Medication Foundation first.

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.

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