Health

Missouri Health System CEO Calls Out for Help Amid COVID Surge

On Tuesday, just after the holiday weekend, the president and CEO of Missouri health system CoxHealth made an urgent plea to members of the medical community amid a local uptick in COVID-19 cases.

“Call to arms Respiratory Therapists!” Steve Edwards wrote on Twitter. “Springfield, Mo is struggling with surging Covid volumes. Cox has plenty of ventilators, PPE, but our heroic RT staff need reinforcements. If you are an RT and can come to our aid please call or text 417-269-5627. We would be so grateful.”

A spokesperson for CoxHealth confirmed in an email to MedPage Today that the health system is “distressed by the high number of hospitalizations throughout southwest Missouri related to COVID-19.” At CoxHealth, that number of hospitalizations has remained around 100 for the last week, the spokesperson said.

“While we have ample supplies and space to care for additional patients, staffing remains a challenge,” the spokesperson said. “At our high of around 170 COVID patients last winter, we had approximately 280 traveling staff to help augment our workforce. The lower number of hands available to help is coupled with higher volumes in other areas of the health system, which we are committed to continuing so other critical patient care is not again deferred.”

Due to these factors, 12 patients were transferred from Cox South in Springfield to other facilities in the region between Friday and Sunday morning, the spokesperson said. However, the spokesperson added, “Divert is not a permanent status; we only use it temporarily. It is tied to capacity at a particular moment in time, and based on what is best for staff and patients.”

The spokesperson said that CoxHealth is “aggressively working to have more travelers return — and hire more staff, as we have throughout the pandemic — but it is currently a challenge due to periods of the year that travelers tend to be available. Respiratory therapists, as well as critical care nurses and other staff areas are desperately needed at this time,” the spokesperson added.

The situation in Missouri is what public health experts have long feared as vaccination rates plateau and the highly transmissible Delta variant takes hold across the U.S.

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department has said that it believes about 90% of new COVID cases locally are tied to the Delta variant, the spokesperson for CoxHealth noted.

On Tuesday, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department called attention to the historical context of an alarming new surge in southwest Missouri, reporting 17 COVID deaths from June 21 to July 4. The last time it reported that many deaths was on January 27.

New cases and hospitalizations have also climbed in recent weeks, according to the department. The most recent data put the 7-day average of daily cases at 139, with a total of 181 hospitalizations as of Tuesday. Less than 40% of the local population that is 12 and older — and therefore eligible to receive the COVID vaccine — are fully vaccinated, similar to the vaccination rate across the state.

For the period of June 28 to July 4, the Missouri Department of Health reported more than 5,000 new COVID cases statewide, equating to an average of 716 new cases per day.

As for CoxHealth, CEO Edwards wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning that it had seen “12 deaths in the past 8 days,” and reiterated the importance of vaccination.

In an update to his call for respiratory therapists, Edwards tweeted the following Wednesday afternoon: “We have now had over 40 Respiratory Therapists respond to help us. Offers go out this afternoon. This will be such a relief to our staff and allow us to better care for our community in this surge.”

  • Jennifer Henderson joined MedPage Today as an enterprise and investigative writer in Jan. 2021. She has covered the healthcare industry in NYC, life sciences and the business of law, among other areas.

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