Springfield hospitals receiving support from traveling nurses, physicians and respiratory therapists

Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 10:53 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Local hospitals have been in a great need for help following a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks, and some of that much-needed support has made its way to town.

There are 259 patients in Springfield hospitals right now. Cox Health is treating 125 people with the virus. Mercy hit a high of 137 on Sunday, and 32 patients were in the ICU on Monday. Of those 32 patients, 30 of them were on ventilators.

Back in January, Mercy had 107 cases and 37 patients in the ICU. Of those patients, only 15 were on ventilators.

“As we look at our growing census and as we’ve put out over the last couple of weeks, we’ve exceeded last year’s peak,” said Mercy Springfield Chief Administrative Officer Erik Frederick.

As Mercy and Cox see record numbers, there has been a continued need to adapt. Mercy just opened its sixth COVID unit for the first time.

”We built our plan last year to be able to expand across units as our census grew,” Frederick said. “What we had to do is expand into a second ICU. So our main ICU, that we keep our COVID patients on has 23 beds available. We hit 34 patients today. So we had to have that second COVID unit ICU unit available, which we did.”

Hospitals say the growing demand for beds and ventilators is connected to the Delta variant.

”This disease is different,” said CoxHealth CEO and President Steve Edwards. “It is quicker, sicker and younger. I would say the ramp up time from 14 to 125 patients, which was in about five weeks for us, was almost triple as fast as during the winter.”

As they continue to manage available resources, both Cox and Mercy say some of the most needed help has arrived -- more staff.

”I think we’ve got like 27 more nurses coming by next Monday and maybe 60 some in the next three weeks, which is a godsend,” Edwards said.

Cox has 10 new respiratory therapists coming as well and more than 80 responded to a request for help over Twitter, Edwards said.

At Mercy, 10 more physicians from the St Louis area arrived this week.

”They’ll start picking up shifts to relieve some of our in house physicians, and they’ll just be in our regular rotation of physicians,” Frederick said. “So we’re very grateful for it, and it couldn’t come at a better time. And credit to our staff in house. Our nurses, they’re pulling a lot of extra shifts to try to step up and help out just like they did last year. I think it’s a little more taxing this year, given just the sheer volume. So the relief is welcome. "

The additional help comes right along the time frame medical experts expect a possible rise in July 4th cases.

”By July 19th, our forecasting tool is predicting between 153 and 178 patients with COVID at COX,” Edwards said. “I don’t know how we’ll be able to handle it but we’re going to do everything we can to try to handle that volume of patients. That will be a record for both Cox and Mercy.”

Edwards said a handful of Cox employees are also currently hospitalized.

“Right now we have three employees that are hospitalized with COVID,” he said. “Currently, one of those is on 50 liters of oxygen. And to give you a reference point, if you’re on oxygen, you’re normally on two to three liters. And I’ll say that those employees, the oldest one is 31.”

Those three hospitalized employees are not vaccinated, Edwards said. He said there is still some vaccine hesitance among employees at the hospital. Edwards said between 90 to 95% of the hospital’s doctors are vaccinated and fewer than 65% of total employees are vaccinated.

“We get that. That hesitation almost correlates directly with your educational level in our organization,” he said. “So our doctors have least hesitation. And lesser educated people have a higher hesitation. We get that it is very complicated.”

Last week Mercy announced that it would be requiring vaccinations among its employees. Edwards said Cox is currently not requiring vaccinations.

“We are evaluating it,” he said. “An important decision point for us is FDA approval. And that’s information we don’t have yet. We’ve tried to follow science this whole time. And while we think the vaccine is safe, and effective, without FDA full approval, there are employees and there are people that have hesitancy. And I think that hesitancy may go away if FDA approval happens. And so we’re going to follow the science and we’re going to evaluate, and that’s going to be an important decision maker for us.”

Both hospitals say they are doing okay now on ventilator supply after the patient surge created a shortage at Mercy earlier this month. The hospital received additional ventilators very quickly from its partnering hospitals. No Mercy patient who needed a ventilator was ever without one.

Frederick said he has also noticed some positive vaccination trends. He said Mercy has seen an increase in daily appointments from 150 to 250 at its clinics.

“Today, I think the story is really excitement about seeing the vaccine activity in our community,” he said. “I have seen some of these larger organizations in the faith community step up. It’s exciting. It feels like it’s starting to get some momentum and going the right way. So I think that to me, it’s a good news day for sure.”

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