The delta variant of COVID-19 is pushing Springfield hospitals to the limit. There were 231 patients at CoxHealth and Mercy on Wednesday, and 103 were in critical care, many on ventilators. At Mercy, there were 37 in the ICU on Wednesday, and 35 were on ventilators.
Springfield health leaders are asking the state to step in and help. The Springfield-Greene County Health Department, in collaboration with healthcare partners, are requesting funding for an alternative care site to provide transitional care to COVID patients who are stable enough to be released from the hospital. That will allow more beds to be freed up for patients who are sicker.
They’re also requesting help in other forms from the State Emergency Management Office and the Department of Health and Senior Services. That includes staffing for additional COVID beds in the area, increasing the capacity for antibody treatments, offering shelter for unsheltered individuals who are COVID positive, expanding mobile testing staff, issuing an emergency declaration to fund ambulance support for transfers and extending state waivers for hospital capacity end use, according to Springfield-Greene County acting director, Katie Towns.
Meanwhile, healthcare workers in Springfield are working hard to care for COVID patients.
Brent Hubbard, president of Mercy Hospital Springfield Communities, said his coworkers are tired.
“We have staff working seven, eight shifts in a row and 12-hour shifts at a time,” he said, “and that is taxing.”
Steve Edwards, president and CEO of CoxHealth, said the situation is similar at his healthcare system. A nurse recently sent him a note saying she and her coworkers “‘feel broken, but we’re not broken. We will support our patients. We will care for our patients. If they spit in our eye we will still care for them.’”
They’re asking more and more of their staff as patient volume increases, according to Edwards. And he’s frustrated because this surge didn’t have to happen.
“We’re going to care for patients regardless, but deep inside it’s hard to make that same commitment knowing you’re caring for someone who had a solution in their hand with a vaccine and they chose not to get it,” he said. “We’ll care for them all the same, but they’re (healthcare workers) putting themselves in harm’s way to protect people who chose not to protect themselves, and it’s harder.”
Healthcare leaders expect the situation to continue to worsen. Mercy’s death rate has doubled over the last week from one per day to 2.1 per day. They’re projecting they’ll reach 200 inpatients with COVID-19 by mid-August.
“That is concerning,” according to Hubbard.
The request from the state could help address the growing need Springfield hospitals will see in the coming weeks, he said. Establishing an alternative care site will allow Mercy to open up an additional 10 to 15 beds per day, he predicts.
He and Edwards are both adding staff to help with the growing numbers of COVID inpatients. Hubbard said they’re hiring an additional 68 traveling nurses this month. Ten nurses and ten physicians from Mercy hospitals in the St. Louis area arrived in Springfield this week. CoxHealth has hired dozens of nurses and respiratory therapists and is seeking more.
Still, Edwards and Hubbard said the coming weeks and months will be a struggle.
“This is particularly intense,” said Edwards. “We’ll manage it, but we are at our capacity, and we’re adding staff and we’ll get stronger and better, but I’m afraid this time in the curve, we’re behind. I don’t think we’ll catch up, and the consequences could be more dire and that’s why we’re asking for support from the governor.”