The trickle-down effect: Springfield hospitals COVID-19 patient surge is pushing rural facilities like Mercy Aurora to their limit as well

Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 6:51 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The surge of new COVID-19 cases in the Ozarks is not just leading to high numbers at Springfield’s two major hospitals that serve as the hub of medical care for the area.

It’s trickling down to their rural hospitals as well.

On Friday Mercy Aurora reported eight COVID-19 patients receiving care at its facility.

They may not sound like much considering Aurora’s sister-hospital, Springfield Mercy, has 128 and CoxHealth in Springfield has 105. But when you consider Aurora only has 12 beds, that’s 67 percent of the rural hospital’s capacity devoted to COVID-19 patients alone.

Normally most of them would be sent to Springfield.

“As a normal practice we don’t keep vented patients at our facilities because we don’t have ICU capabilities,” explained Valerie Davis, the Administrator for both Mercy Aurora and Cassville. These COVID patients require so many more resources. There’s more for the staff physically in getting in and out of all the protective equipment plus just the high acuity of those patients with all the different medications and oxygen. That just becomes a challenge as more and more patients continue to walk in the door.”

And more and more non-COVID patients are walking through the door as well.

Aurora’s emergency room admissions have doubled because people are frustrated with the long wait times at bigger ER’s in the region and figure they have a better chance of being seen sooner at a rural hospital.

Aurora has seen patients from Joplin-to-Highlandville, Springfield-to-Rogers, Arkansas.

“Beds everywhere right now are scarce,” Davis said. “Wait times everywhere are really long. It’s always concerning about how much it will continue to escalate.”

According to Missouri’s chief epidemiologist at a state health department news conference on Friday, the escalation is expected to continue at least through July.

“We do not expect things to turn around very quickly,” said Dr. George Turabelidze. “We expect a few more weeks before things start improving. And the hospitalizations, as a lagging indicator, will take another week-or-two (after that) before they start improving as well.”

DHSS officials also said they’ve met with the CDC about Governor Mike Parson’s statement that the federal COVID surge response teams coming to Missouri should not be using a strategy of sending their agents door-to-door.

“I object to the federal government coming in going door-to-door to anyone’s house in Missouri,” Parson said on Thursday. “I want to be clear. We want them here to assist but it depends on what that role is. I don’t think we need to be scaring people into taking the vaccine.”

At Friday’s news conference DHSS Acting Director Robert Knodell said discussions between the state and feds have gone well.

“From our conversations with the CDC we’re very much in agreement,” Knodell said. “We don’t believe there are individuals who can just parachute in and persuade Missourians that are hesitant to get vaccinated. Thankfully our federal partners agree with that.”

“It’s well known nationally that we are the Show Me State. Missourians are a skeptical people,” added Adam Crumbliss, the Director of the Division of Community and Public Health for DHSS. “The way to move forward is an aggressive action plan, an engagement at the very individual level. Then having trusted voices on the ground that people have known and listened to for years to help persuade public activities.”

Both Davis and Dr. Turabelidze pointed out some important downsides people should consider though if they choose not to get vaccinated.

“They may not get COVID,” Davis said. “But they may need a hospital bed because they get in a car wreck or their parents have a heart attack or their child has an injury. And that hospital bed’s not available.”

“When you’re experiencing infection, even if it’s mild, you are making yourself into a breeding ground for new mutations,” added Dr. Turabelidze. “If we do not vaccinate most of us, we can never stop this virus. Nobody wants to see another winter of covered faces, limited travel or limited social life. We are the Show Me State. Let’s show the rest of the country this is only a temporary setback and that Missourians are stronger than that. Let’s get vaccinated!”

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