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Rural Montana doctor expresses concerns for COVID-19 cases

Posted at 4:57 PM, Mar 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-24 10:31:38-04

SUPERIOR — As COVID-19 continues to spread quickly in some of the country's biggest cities, Montana's rural communities have largely been spared.

But if and when that changes, smaller hospitals would likely see resources tapped out quickly.

Emergency room and obstetrics physician Ronald Black, splits time between several rural western Montana hospitals.

He believes residents in these communities aren’t taking social distancing to the extreme that is necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19. He says with recent data showing that the number of positive cases may not spike in Montana until late April or beyond rural hospitals are going to be quickly become over-extended.

“Unless something changes dramatically with the manufacture base, there’s a good chance we’re going to be having shortages of equipment that, you know ventilators, masks, gowns you know everything that we’re experiencing now, we’re currently now in every hospital I work in now experiencing shortages already,” said Black.

Clark Fork Valley Hospital in Plains, St Luke’s Hospital in Ronan, and Mineral County Hospital in Superior are prime examples of emergency care facilities that are susceptible to being over-burdened should even a small number of community members contract the disease.

This has the medical community searching for answers.

“We’re actually in meetings everyday both formally and informally brainstorming trying for disaster preparedness, what are we going to do when we have six people that need to be ventilated in my hospital and we have three ventilators. What are we going to do when the masks run out and we just have a regular cloth mask and we have to go march into somebody that’s sick and expose all of our coworkers and ourselves to this virus,” said Black.

Black urges rural residents to follow CDC advice to the letter, and to practice complete social distancing until conditions have dramatically improved.

Black adds that the impact of potential COVID-19 cases in rural hospitals could strain other emergency services they provide.