COVID-19 has arrived in rural America. Indeed, the worst outbreaks in October 2020 were in counties with populations less than 50,0001. We knew it was coming2, and yet communities are unprepared to face the significant challenges of caring for COVID-19 patients.
Risks and impacts of COVID-19 are not distributed evenly. This is especially true for people with disabilities and rural residents who face significant challenges to accessing healthcare. For COVID-19, risk increases with advanced age (aged 65 and older), congregate living such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and for individuals with several health conditions including asthma, diabetes, blood disorders, serious heart conditions, severe obesity, and for those who are immunocompromised3. Many of these conditions are reported at higher rates among the population of people with disabilities, placing them at higher risk of COVID-19 related complications4.
We were excited to bring our peer-led self-management program Living Well in the Community to new audiences by facilitating partnerships between Centers for Independent Living and rural hospitals, and begun by teaming up with CILs and rural hospitals in Wyoming and Oregon for the first phase of the project.
And then COVID-19 struck, and like so many things across the country, we needed to adapt, as many hospitals and healthcare settings found themselves dealing with this virus and related difficulties. At the same time, it became dangerous for people to meet in person, especially when the disability community is most at-risk for exposure in this pandemic.
“Not only do you have to travel far to get to beds,” Grieman said, “You’re going to a place where there are more people, where there is also an outbreak, and those beds may also still be in high demand. So, that’s what I find particularly disconcerting.”
RTC:Rural Project Director Lillie Grieman in a recent news article on Public News Service, on why rural people with disabilities are at higher risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rural people with disabilities and barriers to hospital access
Rural people with disabilities face many barriers to accessing health care, particularly Intensive Care Units and hospital beds. Hospital capacity varies greatly, as does the prevalence of people with disabilities. Typically, there are fewer hospital beds and higher rates of disability in rural places than urban ones.
Project Director Lillie Greiman discusses some of these barriers in a recent news article- read or listen to the news story through the following link:
Recent models from ProPublica, Imperial College, and others predict that millions of people who contract COVID-19 will be hospitalized and many hospitals across the country may not be prepared to treat the influx of patients.
People with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to impacts from COVID-19, both directly and indirectly. While data about how this virus will impact the health and well-being of people with disabilities is currently limited, people with disabilities are often at greater risk of chronic health conditions, and thus may be more susceptible to infection. People with disabilities also face disruptions in services for daily needs, which could exacerbate conditions unrelated to COVID-19.
Overall, individuals who experience disability are at greater risk for being hospitalized either because they have contracted COVID-19 or because pre-existing health conditions have worsened.
However, not all people
with disabilities who may benefit from Living Well are connected to their local
CILs. To help expand the reach of the program, the Building Networks to Expand
Living Well Delivery project partners with rural community hospitals and CILs.
These partnerships will also help improve the capacity of rural hospitals to
support rural independent community living.
The Building Networks to Expand Living Well Delivery project team explains the project and its goals, and gives a quick progress update.
Cover of the APRIL Members Input Survey Summarized Results. To view or download the full results, follow the links in the post.
At this year’s APRIL conference (See: Another great APRIL conference in the books!), RTC:Rural asked APRIL members to share their thoughts and ideas about what work is most important for rural Independent Living and research. We want to make sure our research leads to relevant and useful solutions for rural people with disabilities, and to do so we make sure to gather input from stakeholders as we plan, carry out, and share the results of our work. Continue reading →