The Challenges Rural Hospitals Face

Read Time: 4 minutes Rural hospitals throughout the US tend to face a number of challenges. These include a high ratio of patients to nurses, a lower percentage of registered nurses on staff compared to urban hospitals, and a greater number of patients diagnosed with severe illnesses than urban public hospitals.

The Role of Step Down Units (SDU) in Rural Healthcare

How a step down unit differs from an Intensive Care Unit

A step down unit differs from an intensive care unit (ICU) in several ways. An ICU typically cares for patients who are suffering from the most acute illnesses or injuries. Because of these patients’ condition, each patient needs close surveillance and intensive nursing care. Typically, in an ICU, the nurse-to-patient ratio is 1-to-1.

A step down unit can be used in several different ways, depending on the facility. However, usually, an SDU presents an intermediary transition between ICU and a surgical or medical ward. The patients still require a high level of care but are now more stable. The typical nurse-to-patient ratio is 1-to-3.

How step down units functions

SDUs, which are often also referred to as transitional care units and intermediate care units, are an asset to rural healthcare. The purpose of an SDU is to care for patients whose condition is more severe than a surgical ward patient but who do not need monitoring in an ICU. The idea is that an SDU can take the pressure off the ICU thus improving patient outcomes while boosting efficiency.

Benefits of SDUs in rural communities

Because this type of facility has a small staff than an ICU, an SDU tends to be less costly to run. But SDUs have a number of benefits aside from cost effectiveness. For example, an SDU can help alleviate congestion in surgical wards by providing a safe environment for patients who are ready to leave the ICU.
SDUs also have a nursing staff who are experienced in dealing with potential medical problems. This could be a lifesaver in a rural hospital which has no ICU and when no transportation is available to take the patient to another hospital.

SDUs and efficiency

In the current healthcare environment, healthcare facilities are under increasing pressure to find new ways to be more cost-effective. Not only are SDUs less expensive to run than ICUs, but SDUs can also help to decrease readmissions to ICUs and hospital wards. When operated optimally, an SDU can also result in better utilization of hospital beds and improved staffing costs.