Ripple effect of patient load at Mercy Springfield affecting rural hospitals in Cassville, Aurora

Published: Nov. 25, 2020 at 5:39 PM CST
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The strain on Springfield hospitals to handle the increasing number of COVID-19 cases has had a ripple effect on rural hospitals as well.

For instance Mercy’s 18-bed Cassville hospital usually averages only three new patients a day.

Aurora’s 46 bed facility averages four-to-five.

But currently they have about a dozen patients each including five COVID-19 patients in Cassville and six in Aurora.

Under normal circumstances those COVID-19 patients would be transferred to Springfield but with Mercy currently full with 98 pandemic-related cases, there’s no room for them.

“We don’t have intensive care units in Aurora and Cassville and so if we have someone who for instance needs to be on a ventilator, that would always be something we would transfer to where there’s an intensive care unit,” explained Dr. Benjamin Leavitt, who works in the ER department at both Cassville and Aurora. “So we get pretty nervous when we find out there’s no ICU beds in the area.”

“Historically prior to COVID we could make one or two phone calls and get that patient where they needed to be,” added Valerie Davis, Mercy Administrator for both the Cassville and Aurora facilities. “Now our providers and our nursing staffers are making 10, 15, 20 calls before we find a bed that’s available. We’ve had to send them as far as Little Rock, Arkansas.”

While Cassville and Aurora have added more ventilators and taken steps to better handle pandemic cases, they both deal mainly in ER and outpatient services and their main job is to treat patients and send them home or stabilize and transfer them to bigger hospitals.

But the shortage of ICU beds at those larger facilities also means other patients are affected too.

“ICU beds aren’t just for COVID patients,” David pointed out. “We still have strokes, heart attacks, things that we just can’t fix.”

It took a while for the virus to surge in Barry and Lawrence counties but now they have higher per-capita rates of people testing positive for COVID-19 than Springfield’s Greene County.

And less people wearing masks.

“I think that’s true,” Dr. Leavitt said. “It seems like there’s a lot less people here wearing masks so we do need to change that culture in the rural areas because I think we’re being hit as hard percentage-wise as the other places are.”

And with projections that things will get worse before they get better?

“My biggest fear is getting to the point where everything we have is not enough,” Davis said. “It’s extremely difficult when we have these tragic circumstances when it’s people that we know and love.”

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