Rural health leaders in Minnesota say they're facing struggles in COVID-19 vaccines rollout

As more Minnesotans get their vaccines, health care facilities in rural areas want to make sure they’re not getting left behind.

"Where we’re struggling with is actually getting the doses," said Jeff Mengenhausen the CEO of Madelia Community Hospital & Clinic. "The rollout from the state has been a little clunky and has forgotten about rural America."

Rural health care providers tell FOX 9 that administering vaccines to their communities needs more planning than urban areas. Transportation, for example, isn’t easily accessible in rural towns, which means patients need more time to prepare.

Mengenhausen said that is part of the reason why he’s asking state leaders for better communication on when they’re receiving vaccine doses.

"It’s been kind of a lottery, which doesn’t make sense," he added. "There are other rural sites that have gone three weeks without getting any doses, but we’ve got 200 this week. We don’t know if we’ll get some next week."

Mark Jones, the executive director for the Minnesota Rural Health Association, said the state’s current system only allows rural health care providers to find out within the same week if they’ll receive vaccine doses.

"That’s difficult for a rural community. You might between 30 and 50 miles from your doctor’s office and it’s 30 degrees below 0," said Jones. "Transportation is not easy in rural Minnesota. We don’t have public transportation; we don’t have Lyft and Uber. We have a very fragmented non-emergency transportation system."

Jones added that better planning would mean getting the vaccine out to the most vulnerable residents faster.

"I think it’s important to look at the counties that are succeeding," he said. "I would highlight Cook County. Almost 40 percent of their population is vaccinated and that has to do with local planning."

A spokesperson from the Minnesota Department of Health said the following in a statement:

"We will continue to work with all our partners to get them information as quickly as we can, and we are grateful for their collaboration and patience. We are heartened by the new Administration’s recent efforts to get us allocation information more in advance than previously.

"We still need more supply, but every week, we continue working to expand that network to give Minnesotans options close to home. We’re committed to continuing to partner with Minnesota's health care providers as well as the regional coalitions, local public health partners, and other vaccine providers to ensure all eligible Minnesotans can receive a vaccination as quickly and safely as possible."