SWEETWATER, Tenn. — As hospitals brace for an increase in patients with COVID-19, concerns are growing that facilities in rural areas may have more difficulty caring for patients, even if the virus spreads slower in less populated areas than urban ones.
"The current pandemic of coronavirus is a major stressor on Tennessee hospitals," said Carole Myers, a professor of public health at the University of Tennessee. "We lead the country in the rate of rural hospital closures."
A 10News review of a 2018 state report showed 173 intensive care beds, excluding neonatal, in Knox County. There were only 131 beds total in all other counties in the 10News viewing area, combined.
At a Sweetwater hospital in Monroe county, the administrator said staff is ready.
"There's a level of anticipation," Scott Bowman said. "We can't share resources with a sister hospital because we don't have a sister hospital."
Sweetwater's hospital is independent, with seven intensive care beds to serve patients from five East Tennessee counties.
"We have about a three month supply of pretty much everything that is required here," Bowman said.
But other rural hospitals may not be as prepared.
"I think common sense says that the rural hospitals do not have the reserve to respond to the pandemic in the same way that our larger urban hospitals have," Myers said. "In general people who live in rural areas, they're older, they're poorer, they're sicker and more uninsured."
Bowman said a handful of nurses quit rather than risk their health from the virus.
It's taking so long to get lab results back, he's worried about losing more staff to unneeded quarantines.
Bowman also said Knoxville area hospitals have reached out to offer assistance. Right now, his facility is appropriately prepared and able to treat COVID patients, he said.
Below is some data of the available beds, according to the 2018 Tennessee hospital Joint Annual Reports.
Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge: 10 beds
Ridgeview Psychiatric Hospital and Center: 0 beds
Blount Memorial Hospital: 16 beds
Peninsula Hospital: 0 beds
Jellico Community Hospital: 5 beds
Tennova Healthcare: 6 beds
Claiborne County Hospital: 5 beds
Tennova Healthcare: 5 beds
Tennova Healthcare Jamestown: 0
No facilities in the county
Laughlin Memorial Hospital: 5 beds
Takoma Regional Hospital: 6 beds
Morristown- Hamblen Healthcare System: 24
Wellmont Hawkins County Memorial Hospital: 1 bed
Tennova Healthcare- Jefferson Memorial Hospital: 6 beds
East Tennessee Children's Hospital: 13 beds
Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center: 22 beds
Parkwest Medical Center: 30 beds
Tennova Healthcare: 12 beds
Turkey Creek Medical Center: 16 beds
University of Tennessee Memorial Hospital: 80 beds
Fort Loudon Medical Center: 5 beds
Starr Regional Medical Center: 9 beds
Starr Regional Medical Center Etowah: 0 beds
Sweetwater Hospital Association: 7 beds
Roane Medical Center: 6 beds
Pioneer Community Hospital of Scott: 0 beds
LeConte Medical Center: 16 beds
There are no facilities in this county.