CoxHealth is making changes to its oxygen supply system because of increased demand by COVID-19 patients.
CoxHealth president and CEO Steve Edwards said, before COVID-19 patients started being admitted to Cox South, they would have their large tank filled by Praxair every 25 days or so. "And now we've been refilling them every four to five days," said Edwards, "so, about six to seven times more oxygen than routine."
The oxygen arrives at Cox in liquid form and then is converted into a gas through a large unit called a vaporizer. CoxHealth has added another vaporizer to help with demand.
"Under high demand and cold temperatures, those vaporizers can kind of be overwhelmed and, lack of a better way to describe, be kind of frozen, and that would reduce our ability to push pressure to the hospital," said Edwards.
CoxHealth has added a second auxiliary tank that would meet demand for another 96 hours if the large tank had a problem. And the health system has installed new two to three-inch lines in Cox South’s new tower to expand capacity.
"A lot of design redundancy. We feel really safe about this," said Edwards. "We find out this has become an issue in many hospitals across the country with this high demand for oxygen for these COVID patients."
Edwards said it’s common for a doctor to put a patient on two to three liters of oxygen. A COVID patient might be on six liters. And a COVID patient on certain ventilators might require 70 liters. Edwards said that means one COVID-19 patient could consume the amount of oxygen that, routinely, 30 patients would.
"When you have a hospital with a census of 100 plus COVID patients, you just use a lot more oxygen, more than any hospital code was designed to handle," said Edwards.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the CoxHealth system had 115 COVID-19 patients. Twenty were in Cox hospitals in rural areas, and 95 were in Springfield.
COVID-19 hospitalizations are up across Missouri. Edwards said he talked with an administrator of a rural hospital in Missouri on Tuesday who was trying to find a placement for a patient. He could not find a bed for that patient in Springfield, Columbia, St. Louis, Kansas City, Memphis or Tulsa. The patient ended up being transferred to Iowa.
With flu season approaching, Edwards is concerned. He said the next two to three months will be a really tough period.
"When we had an early surge in New York, we could bring resources to New York from all over the country," he said. "We're all surging at the same time and so it will strain hospitals from east coast to west coast."