What Does CoxHealth Need To Fight Coronavirus? We Asked Its CEO.

Mar 24, 2020

The CoxHealth system is based in Springfield, Missouri.
Credit CoxHealth / Used with permission

All eyes in the country are turning to hospitals, as men and women in scrubs prepare to receive patients with the most severe cases of COVID-19.  KSMU’s Jennifer Moore interviewed the CEO of CoxHealth, Steve Edwards, on equipment and supplies – and what his hospital needs from the community right now.  

Listen to the interview below.

Edwards oversees a health care system with an estimated 12,500 employees. And they are essentially suiting up for a battle against a highly contagious, peculiar new virus. But these warriors may need a little more armor. 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Edwards put a call out for personal protective equipment or PPE earlier this week on Twitter. He said the community support has been solid so far.

“Great Southern brought us 4000 N-95 masks. People like Charles Taylor, who's on our school board, who had some N-95 masks that his dad had when he was a woodworker, and he wanted to donate those,” Edwards said.

But those don't add up to what they need in total, he said. 

“Our current supply of what we call PPE is pretty typical. But we are gearing up for the potential to have a spike. And so we want much more. And so we're doing everything we can to arm our our warriors with the protection they need to go into battle,” Edwards said. 

Ventilators

Before the start of COVID-19, Cox Health had 85 ventilators, according to a CoxHealth spokeswoman. It’s acquired 19 more and it's still building that reserve. And in a pinch, if needed, hospitals can use anesthesiology machines to perform the function of ventilators.

Edwards said CoxHealth’s supply staff members were “on top of this,” since the director of infectious disease was getting almost daily updates from the hard-hit communities in Washington state. 

“And we knew quickly that ventilators would be an issue,” Edwards said.  So the hospital system started to acquire more, leasing some and hanging onto others they had planned to replace.

Governor Mike Parson’s office has also offered to help secure more ventilators, Edwards said.

Edwards: Shelter-in-place mandate essential to protect hospitals

At the time of KSMU’s interview, on Monday evening, neither Parson nor local authorities in Greene County had issued a shelter-in-place mandate—something Edwards is calling for.

“I strongly feel a need for that because we've looked at the modeling data. And if you act like Italy did, which they moderated these social protective measures gradually over time, the log of that curve rose too fast,” Edwards said.

Springfield is on track to be ahead of that curve, he said—but only if Missouri acts immediately as a state. Otherwise, his hospital and others risk becoming overwhelmed, he said.

“Two thirds of our patients come from outside of Greene County. And so if those rural areas don't act, there's still the risk that our large tertiary hospitals have a deluge of patients and it could extend beyond our capacity. So making these shelter-at-home measures tends to be the model that suppresses this,” Edwards said.

And that would save both lives and the economy, Edwards said.

Local health care workers:  ‘They are ready for a fight.’

“I'm the administrator. I push paper for a living. So, you know, I don't do anything inspiring. But I will tell you that if you walk around this hospital, there is this energy and adrenaline and preparedness that reminds me of what it must have been for people that were ready to land on Normandy. They are ready for a fight,” Edwards said.

This is what they have trained and prepared their entire careers for, he said.

There's so many people I could identify. So many heroes, I can't begin,” Edwards said.

“But the fight only begun. And so we want to keep them ready and rested because this isn't going to be a blizzard. It's going to be a long winter, I'm afraid,” Edwards said.

What do hospitals in Springfield and the rural Ozarks need from the community?

“I need people to stay home. This is not a time to panic. We can easily beat this thing, I believe, but it takes us coming together and suppressing that curve. Rural counties that haven't had their first case, it's as if they don't believe in it in some cases. And when that first case happens, it it becomes startling. You know, just look what's happened in Italy to be aware what could happen here if we don't do these suppression methods,” Edwards said.

Important steps if you think you’re getting sick, and free Virtual Visits

“Please use the telemedicine line,” Edwards said, referring to the phone number for CoxHealth’s Virtual Visits, which allow you to talk to a health care professional through a phone, computer or mobile device.  That number is 417-269-TMED (8633).  

Here's a link to CoxHealth Virtual Visits and here's the link to virtual visits through MyMercy.

CoxHealth is offering free virtual visits to people with symptoms of COVID-19, which include a fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Those patients should use the code COVID when beginning a virtual visit with CoxHealth at the link above.

“We have free testing that we're doing jointly in Springfield and Greene County,” he said, noting that Taney County is about to provide that service, too.

“And also know there'll be a point in our community, just like the flu, when we know it's endemic.  And [when we reach that point], there's really not a need to test anymore. And at that point, we need you to stay home 14 days, don't infect people, don't come the hospital, don't go to your doctor unless you're really sick. And if you feel like you're really sick, please call your doctor,” Edwards said.

“If your doctor is not available, do telemedicine. And then if you feel like you've gotta go to the E.R., please call first. And we're probably going to treat people outside the E.R. to keep patients who are suspicious of symptoms from interacting in the E.R. until we've really identified them,” Edwards said.