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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

Missouri Hospitals Straining: 'Kind Of Running Out of Ideas Right Now'

Courtesy of CoxHealth
Cox South Hospital in Springfield has added nearly 150 beds since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise in Missouri, and unlike other surges earlier in the summer, hospitals in most parts of the state are filling up. At Cox Health, a health system in Springfield that operates multiple hospitals, expanding capacity over the past nine months still hasn't been enough.

Cox has added more than 100 beds, but the system has still had to turn people away. CEO Steve Edwards told the Health and Wealth Desk how the system is surviving the surge.

Steve Edwards: We’re floating around 160 in our system. The majority of those patients are in Cox South in Springfield, and we’re routinely at 125 in Cox South, so our COVID ICU is full, and the other units are full. We continue to try to find new solutions and I’m amazed our staff keeps finding new solutions. But you know, [we're] kind of running out of ideas right now, and it’s beginning to be even more worrisome, because we know that November is probably going to better than even December as we really head into this really tough period.

Health and Wealth: I saw you’ve added even more capacity recently, can you tell me about what that looks like, physically and logistically?

Edwards: Yeah so in total we will have added about 147 beds since this pandemic started at our south hospital. The first 51 were that COVID ICU unit, and then we had a 24 bed cardiac unit that was already in the design period but we decided to accelerate that to get those beds up and going. And then we have 36 beds that actually are private rooms that are designed to be semi-private in a crisis and so that would be another 72 beds. They should be up and running in two weeks, so we will have added 147 bed capacity, which is probably bigger than the average hospital in the state of Missouri.

HW: And when you’re adding beds it also means allocating staff to work those beds — how is your staff holding up through this surge?

Edwards: Each person has a different way of dealing with it but first and foremost for vast majority when they come on the unit they’re ready to go, they’re 100 per cent committed, they’re on, they’re focused. And when they leave their shift I think they leave feeling nearly broken, knowing that the patients keep coming. we’ve had our highest in one night, we lost eight patients. And I can tell you that those nurses involved in that care will never forget that night. And so I think the morale is a combination of we’re ready for this moment, we planned for this moment, we entered the field for this moment but now it’s about stamina and running out of adrenaline and knowing that the moment is going to continue.

HW: If you don’t mind me asking, what will Thanksgiving look like for you?

Edwards: Well, I'll be at the hospital part of the day, for sure. My immediate family, those that live in our house, we'll have dinner and I'm probably the worst parent in the world to have three teenagers under, because we won't even eat at the same table. We spread out because we've got kids that are in school. We will go to my mom's house and we'll go in her driveway, and we're going to eat dessert in her driveway, and then take a walk. I've not been inside my mom's house since March, not been inside a restaurant since March, but we found ways to kind of navigate it. I tell people I think it's far safer to be in one of our COVID ICUs than to be in a multi-generational Thanksgiving dinner, because you have protection. So our Thanksgiving plans will look a little bit different, and I also encourage people — Thanksgiving doesn't always have to be on Thanksgiving Day. When things get safer- you know, I have an elderly mom and when she gets a vaccine, and the titers are up, I'll feel much better about celebrating. So we may celebrate Thanksgiving in the early spring. We just all need to look at the world being a little different, and be flexible. 

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia was a health reporter at KBIA and is documentary filmmaker who focuses on access to care in rural and immigrant communities. A native Spanish speaker and lifelong Missouri resident, Sebastián is interested in the often overlooked and under-covered world of immigrant life in the rural midwest. He has a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri and a master's degree in documentary journalism at the same institution. Aside from public health, his other interests include conservation, climate change and ecology.
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