As hospitals across the country work through a tough flu season, those in small towns can face numerous challenges.
When towns don't have a lot of people, hospitals in them generally don't have a lot of staff. So, when flu visits a community, it can be tough.
"We were fortunate, though, that we didn't get to a point where we didn't have enough staff. We got close a couple times but folks pitched in and we made it work," Ortonville Area Health Services CEO Richard Ash said.
The hospital, clinic and nursing home in Ortonville all had staff members face the flu this year. A fair number of patients did too. Ash says the medical center responded through various steps to stop its spread including separating patients with flu-like symptoms from others in the hospital.
In a small town where everyone knows everyone, a visitor to the hospital or nursing home might have multiple patients or residents they want to see before leaving. If that visitor comes in infected with the flu, it could spread quickly.
The facility is restricting visitors, asking those with symptoms to stay away. It's also offering visitors masks and hand sanitizer.
"The numbers are slowing down a little bit. Obviously we're not going to put our guard down though, because these things can come back up again," Ash said.
If that happens, Ash says the staff will be ready. He argues strengths that come with small towns outweigh weaknesses.
"I think it's important to recognize that people really stick together and work together when needed, whether it's flu, whether it's water rising over the banks, whatever it is," Ash said.
That said, Ash figures the flu has hit his town hard enough for a season and would just as soon it stay away.
More staff members in the health system received vaccines this year. Flu numbers started rising in Ortonville about a month ago.
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