'We'll improvise': A cash-strapped rural hospital's plan for coronavirus outbreak

Responding to the coronavirus pandemic presents significant challenges for rural hospitals, many of which operate on razor-thin margins and are vulnerable to closure. 

Dayton (Wash.) General Hospital is a lifeline for the local community, with the nearest hospital 35 miles away. Like many other rural hospitals, Dayton General has made cuts in recent years. It has eliminated obstetrics, endoscopy and other surgeries, and its nursing home and emergency room are losing money, according to The Washington Post.

Dayton General's leaders are now tasked with pulling together resources and implementing a plan to respond to the outbreak of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The hospital closed its nursing home to visitors and hung signs outside the ER asking people with flu-like symptoms to call before entering the building. The hospital doesn't have any ventilators, is low on masks and protective gear, and most staff are already holding more than one position to keep the hospital functioning.

"I know we're stretched thin as it is," Dayton General CEO Shane McGuire told The Washington Post. "We'll improvise and make it work however we can."

Dayton General normally keeps enough supplies and cash on hand to operate for roughly 14 days. Due to shortages of certain supplies across the nation, Dayton General is rationing supplies, such as gloves and surgical masks. Unable to get any needed supplies from vendors, the hospital leaders have called the governor to request 3,500 masks.  

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