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State Disaster Medical Assistance Team opens antibody infusion center in Springfield

Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 8:39 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 23, 2021 at 9:09 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - You may not have heard the trumpet blasting “CHARGE!” but the state cavalry has arrived to help fight the surge of COVID-19 cases in southwest Missouri.

On Thursday Governor Mike Parson announced additional personnel and equipment were being sent to Springfield and Greene County because the large number of new cases that had drawn national attention was overwhelming the area’s health care system.

On Friday that cavalry went to work with ambulance strike teams being made available to assist local hospitals. The teams consist of 10 advanced life support ambulances, 20 medical personnel, two strike team leaders, and one logistics specialist, all to aid in the transport of COVID-19 patients.

The other members of the state’s cavalry were not noticeable to the public, but their presence was noted by the small yard signs along Grand Street and Kansas Expressway (right next to a “Garage Sale” sign) that said, “COVID-19 infusions by appointment only.”

Those signs are at the old Price Cutter store in south Springfield that is now being run by the Jordan Valley Community Health Center.

For a while the building was used for mass vaccinations, then closed when the demand went down. Now it’s ramping back up for antibody treatments with the help of local health officials and 10 members of DMAT, the state’s Disaster Medical Assistant Team, a group you would normally associate with showing up at a major tragedy like a tornado.

“You use an analogy of a tornado coming through, it’s almost like that with the numbers of patients getting sick and the shortage of healthcare personnel in the city,” explained Lisa Cillessen, Jordan Valley’s Clinical Pharmacist. “Really it’s the significance of the state recognizing that it’s not well here in Springfield and it’s time to do something before it becomes a catastrophic level and we’re calling in the federal government.”

“It’s important to realize just how taxed the health care system is in the Springfield area,” added Dr. Matthew Stinson, Jordan Valley’s Executive Vice President. “To be able to do this within a week has been almost unprecedented and we really appreciate the governor’s office stepping up and providing the resources.”

Calling on the state for emergency help is something local health officials never had to during the worst of the pandemic last year when Springfield was under lock down, which should give you an idea of how bad things are now.

“It’s worse now than it was originally,” Cillessen said. “Early on we did have time during those lock down phases to build additional resources. We don’t have a lock down period now to rebuild that infrastructure like we had before.”

What’s being done at Jordan Valley with the state’s help now is monoclonal antibody infusions. They’re not antibodies taken from COVID-19 patients but laboratory-produced antibodies instead. They’re being used not on severely ill patients but patients with low or moderate illnesses to keep them from getting worse.

“It’s for people who have the disease that have a high risk of progression,” Stinson said. “Those are the people who are getting admitted to the hospital and so it’s important for us to treat them and keep them out of the hospital.”

“We’re looking at high risks that could put them in the hospital,” Cillessen added. “Chronic illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, overweight or obese. When we first started doing infusions most of the patients were in their 50′s, 60′s, 70′s and 80′s. Now most of them are in their 20′s and 30′s and honestly they have worse symptoms than what we were seeing originally.”

Like the vaccines, the latest versions of the monoclonal antibodies have only be approved for emergency use but Cillessen said she’s not seeing a lot of hesitancy about the infusion offers.

“It is not fully FDA approved but they feel so crummy that they don’t care,” she said of the ill patients who qualify. “They just want to get well.”

It takes about three hours to receive an infusion treatment and starting next week the Jordan Valley site will be treating up to 33 patients-per-day. The plan is to be open seven-days-a-week for the next two weeks and then reassess the situation.

Potential patients need a referral and must get the infusion within 10 days of getting their initial symptoms. Cillessen also pointed out that the first thing a patient must do if they’re thinking that an infusion might help them is to get a COVID-19 test.

“Get tested wherever you can the fastest you can,” she said. “We have to have that test before we can do an infusion for you. But most patients will start to feel better within about 24-48 hours and most patients I’ve worked with have had complete symptom resolution within a week.”

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