In 2019, flooding hit the small Mills County, Iowa, town of Pacific Junction. Recovery is slow, Mayor Andy Young said in August 2020, a year after the waters rose 7 to 11 feet in nearly all homes. Three generations of his family live in “PJ.” The town will not be the same — and neither will the people. Young expects 125 to 135 families who were flooded will go for buyouts that are being offered.
Some rural Iowa hospitals will not survive the COVID-19 outbreak, industry leaders said Wednesday. That dire warning came as the Iowa Hospital Association revealed projections that show the state’s 118 hospitals, collectively, could lose as much as $2.17 billion in revenue by the end of this year.
More than $500M in federal aid heading to Iowa hospitals would cover only half their COVID-19 losses
Iowa hospitals received $190.3 million in CARES Act relief fund payments in April and were expecting as much as $360 million more in a second round of federal relief aid, interviews and documents shared with IowaWatch show. Part of a special national collaboration, “Slammed: Rural Health Care and COVID-19”
There would be no large, family birthday celebration for Jing Htun’s 7-year-old son, thanks to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions. But she made sure there would be cake. Htun picked one up from the Hy-Vee bakery on Euclid Avenue on the morning of March 23, her son’s birthday. The cake was nothing elaborate, she said, just enough to put a smile on his face. She made her way to the checkout line.
High school sophomores and juniors around the country check what they received when preliminary scholastic aptitude test scores — better known as PSAT scores — are posted in December.
The “what did you get?” and “did you do better than me?” questions follow. Jenny Geng, Iowa City West High School student (Photo provided Jenny Geng)
“I hate the comparison of test scores,” Jenny Geng, 16, a junior at Iowa City West High School, said. “It makes them feel bad about themselves,” she said about students she knows. “But you can’t stop it and it’s going to happen,” she said. “I don’t like it.”
Competition in high school is producing stress for high school students in many aspects of their lives. High school students participating in an IowaWatch high school journalism project this year rattled off a list of ways they compete with one another: how your body looks, social life, academics.
CEDAR RAPIDS — Public officials rattle off COVID-19 statistics at daily news conferences: the number of new cases; numbers of negative tests; the number of deaths. As of Friday, April 3, 2020, a total of 11 Iowans had died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Senior photo of Vicki Snarzyk, courtesy Judy Fletcher
Vicki Snarzyk was one of those. “She was a beautiful soul who always put others first,” Judy Fletcher said of her 61-year-old sister, who died April 1 in Cedar Rapids. Fletcher, 54, of Denver, Colorado, wants everyone to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously, to understand the devastating implications and realize how easily it can hit home.
Some Iowa hospitals ramping up their efforts to treat COVID-19 victims will not survive the pandemic without an infusion of cash, the head of the professional association for those hospitals said.
With farmers facing increasing stress and depression, Midwestern states and national farm groups are making more efforts to better provide services to alleviate the high rate of suicide among the agriculture industry. Yet in rural areas, this care is more of a challenge. Rural hospitals — often the primary source of health care services in these areas — are closing or merging. Since 2010, 23 hospitals have closed across the Midwest — a loss of nearly 1,000 beds, according to the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program.
An Institute for Nonprofit News investigation by 12 news outlets across seven states found that rural Midwest hospitals have reduced services or merging with larger health systems in an effort to deal with financial and regulatory pressures. Only two of those Midwestern hospitals were in Illinois, but accessing mental health services in rural communities remains difficult. Some groups have decided to address the situation themselves.
A collaborative project including the Institute for Nonprofit News and INN members IowaWatch, KCUR, Bridge Magazine, Wisconsin Watch, Side Effects Public Media and The Conversation; as well as Iowa Public Radio, Minnesota Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Radio, The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA), Iowa Falls Times Citizen and N’west Iowa REVIEW. The project was made possible by support from INN, with additional support from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems. For more stories visit hospitals.iowawatch.org
For example, the organization GROW sets up meetings over Zoom, a video conferencing app, to help those in rural areas experiencing mental health issues.And more than a dozen farm bureau managers in Illinois have taken mental health first aid classes that help people recognize signs of distress. Harry Brockus — the chief executive officer of Carle Hoopeston and Carle Richland in Central Illinois, a collection of hospitals that serves 41 mostly rural counties — said there is a physician shortage across the country and recruitment to rural areas is an even bigger challenge.
“We do not offer the amenities that physicians are looking for,” he said, “such as shopping, schools and different entertainment venues.”
Other challenges in rural areas, such as transportation, housing and access to healthy food, can make rural healthcare costs inefficient and unaffordable, Brockus said.
This has left rural America in a bind when it comes to care for mental health.
A seven-state news investigation revealed plenty of problems facing rural patients but also a variety of creative attempts to solve them. The head of the National Rural Health Association puts it this way: “Everyone realizes we’re at a crisis point.”
Hospital leaders say a policy fix is needed to ensure the future of rural hospitals in Iowa and across the country that are succumbing to financial pressures and closing their doors. Until that fix comes, though, Iowa’s network of rural community hospitals is making tough choices and smart partnerships to get by, a series of interviews by Iowa news organizations collaborating with IowaWatch revealed. Some have dropped OB-GYN services. Smaller hospitals have turned to larger ones to form partnerships, which can
result in the elimination of services to be more cost-efficient but forces
patients to drive out of town for health care. Other efforts to maintain local
hospital care include shifting to more outpatient care, the interviews show.
This podcast of an original IowaWatch Connection radio report lets those in the Midwest U.S. trying to attract the necessary resources to meet mental health care demand in flood-stricken regions tell you about the problem. It includes one health care center that is trying to address the health care worker shortage head-on with a full-time recruiter.