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IN-DEPTH: Rural Texans dying of COVID-19 twice as much as those in urban areas

Goodall-Witcher Hospital Authority Clifton Medical Clinic
Rural area hospital struggled to find beds for COVID-19 patients
Rural America seems back to normal
People trade near healthcare for wide open spaces.
Clifton, Texas
Posted at 5:12 PM, Oct 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-06 11:32:22-04

The first surge of COVID-19 seemed to skip over many rural areas. The latest surge devastated many parts of rural America, including Central Texas.

Every patient that comes in you think, is this another person that's going to die?

Joice-Sarah McCabe has been on the front lines at Goodall-Witcher Hospital Authority Clifton Medical Clinic in Clifton. As a nurse, she wants to see people get better.

"It's been disheartening," McCabe said in tears.

A new study from RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis shows that rural areas are seeing a rate of COVID-19 deaths twice as high as urban areas.

The goal of a rural hospital is to get a patient stable and move them to a hospital with better equipment. Instead, many rural hospitals would spend hours if not days on the phone looking for a hospital.

Rural nurses working several hours overtime
Joicesarah Mccabe leading a small team of nurses, discusses her experience in a pandemic.

At Goodall-Witcher Hospital they had to send one patient to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

"Like rural people do, we pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps and said 'What do we need to do?' because this patient is not going to die," said McCabe.


15 percent of Americans live in rural areas. Texas is at 22 percent rural areas. The pandemic has put many stresses on rural hospitals.

"There is just no relief from the stresses it causes," said Adam Willmann, president of Goodall-Witcher Hospital Authority Clifton Medical Clinic.

Goodall-Witcher Hospital Authority Clifton Medical Clinic
Goodall-Witcher Hospital Authority Clifton Medical Clinic has had to send COVID-19 patients as far as New Mexico after not being able to find a bed in Texas.

Willmann was also elected as the Board Chairman of the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals; he said the stresses range from lack of staff educating rural parts about vaccines.

"It's more about politics now than it is about health or healthcare," said Willmann.

Willmann said he believes the political divide and misinformation have made it difficult in helping educate citizens.

"It really [just] is ... take care of yourself and do what you can do to keep from spreading it," said Willimann.

Rural hospitals have been struggling for years now. The fear is that more hospitals might close. The financial strain on top of a shortage of nurses has made it difficult.

"The need of patients is higher than what we are able to deliver, almost every day I'm getting an email from a colleague that has a patient that is too severe or needs to get to a higher level of care," said Willmann.

McCabe said what's been enjoyable is having people come back and saying "thank you" for saving their life.