Omicron wave straining rural Illinois hospital

ROCHELLE, Ill. (NewsNation Now) — Esmerelda Garcia battled the coronavirus shortly before Christmas, fearing she’d never make it home again.

“One of my children told me there were no gifts under the Christmas tree, so I worried I wouldn’t be home,” Garcia recalled.

The 35-year-old mother of four was hospitalized with COVID-19 on Dec. 8, 2021. She said at times she thought she might not make it to see another Christmas.

“There were times I would have a coughing attack and times I couldn’t breathe, and those were the times I thought I might not make it,” Garcia explained.

Within moments of arriving at Rochelle Community Hospital in Illinois, Garcia was immediately put on oxygen and a ventilator. A doctor told her if she got sicker, she would need to be transferred to a bigger hospital, and if she waited, there might not be another chance.

“We called, at one time, over 50 organizations to take a patient, and there wasn’t a bed available,” said Rochelle Community Hospital CEO Gregg Olson.

It’s a scenario rural hospitals see all across the country as omicron variant cases surge. As a result, some Rochelle Community Hospital patients have been forced to wait three to four days to be transferred.

“It can overload the facility to where sometimes we have to have people in the hallways in the emergency room,” said Dr. Jason Popp, a family medicine physician.

Not having enough beds has been a problem, but not having enough nurses has been the primary concern.

“Nursing shortages, staffing shortages, our turnover has been quite a bit this year since the pandemic,” said Rhonda Marks, the chief of nursing at Rochelle Community Hospital.

Rural hospitals lose their staff to travel agencies and bigger cities with better pay.

But it was the place that saved Esmerelda’s life and so many others; after a seven-day stay and many prayers, she was able to go home.

“I was able to be home for Christmas, there were no gifts, but we had each other, that was the best gift they had, was to be together,” Garcia said.


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