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Health leaders say Springfield hospitals could be forced to make difficult decisions about care

Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 9:36 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - In a news briefing Friday, health leaders said local hospitals are nearing a crisis, overwhelmed with surges of COVID-19 patients. Officials say space is limited and staff is stressed.

In that briefing, a registered nurse from Mercy explained the harsh reality inside the walls of the hospital. She said beds cannot be available for patients unless staff is there to care for them, and right now, beds are already full because of COVID-19. That means patients with other health conditions could see the effects of a strained system.

“This virus does not care about your age, your gender, your race. We have seen, cared for and lost patients from all walks of life,” said Wanda Brown.

Brown is one of the nurses caring for COVID-19 patients at Mercy. She said she’s seen far too many unnecessary deaths from an unforgiving disease.

“We’re all hurting and we’re all very tired,” Brown said.

She said Mercy has four hospital wings dedicated to the virus.

“I know we have all heard statements made of how hospitals are not overwhelmed and our ICUs are not full. This is untrue. It is misleading. I think it provides a false sense of security for our community,” she said.

In fact, Brown said, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is expected to double in the coming weeks.

Dr. Shawn Usery, with CoxHealth, said that could require hospitals to make tough decisions.

“As our hospitals fill up and take more and more beds with COVID patients, that necessarily pushes out other patients,” Usery said.

Usery said Cox will add nearly 150 beds in the next few weeks, which is equivalent to a mid-sized hospital. However, he said, he needs more staff to care for the patients who fill that added space.

“We are currently looking across the United States to find nurses to help care for patients. That’s something we’ve been doing for the last several months. It’s something we’ll continue to do to make sure that we have staff to take care of our community,” he said.

Mercy is also trying to recruit healthcare workers from outside the area to help in Springfield. Dr. Mayrol Juarez said Mercy is having regular meetings to discuss the possibility of limiting care for non-COVID-19 patients, with a shortage of space and staff.

“At this point, there has not been the need to have that conversation, but if we don’t take action now, we will get there soon,” he said.

That reality urges an overworked nurse to beg her neighbors to do their part.

“Please wear your mask, please continue to socially distance, help us so we can help our patients and our communities,” Brown said.

Both Mercy and Cox shut down all non-emergency surgeries back in the spring to focus on caring for COVID-19 patients. Both hospitals say they are not planning to cancel any of those already scheduled, but may have to if the curve does not flatten soon.

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