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In SW Missouri: ‘It’s Becoming a Staffing Challenge to Take Care of the Rising Number of COVID Patients’

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Amanda Hedgpeth is the vice president of hospital operations for the CoxHealth Hospital System based in Springfield, as well as their assistant commander for COVID-19 response.

She spoke about the current COVID-19 surge in Southwest Missouri, and about her concerns for her staff and community – as well as the rest of the state – if vaccination rates remain low and case numbers continue to rise.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words.

Amanda Hedgpeth: This surge has been difficult to manage from the standpoint that our volumes are higher overall hospital – not COVID specific volumes, but our overall medical patients.

It's summer, so, we have traumas. We have a lot of surgeries that, of course needed to be pushed off from last spring and summer when we didn't have surgeries open as much to ensure we had capacity.

So, we're concerned about people that have put off care, we want to make sure they get back into our hospitals. So, all that together is causing resource strain.

One evening, we did have to transfer out a couple of patients, and what we really evaluated – the benefit we have right now is that, fortunately, other hospitals outside of Springfield, Missouri aren't dealing with the same surge. So, it was safe and best for a couple of those patients to actually go outside of our area.

In January, we didn't have that relief valve because every hospital was in the same place we are.

What's different, this time, is back in the winter, we had 280 traveling nurses and respiratory therapists to augment our staff. Obviously, as numbers decreased with COVID – through March and April – we released some of that staff, and they went on to other places across the country to work.

The best way, right now, that anybody in our community can help a nurse, can help a respiratory therapist, can help a pulmonologist – is to get vaccinated and encourage your loved ones to get vaccinated.
Amanda Hedgpeth, CoxHealth

And now with this surge, we are needing additional help and additional resources, but we also know it's summer, and we know it's a time that nursing staff and respiratory therapists want to be able to take off and be with their family.

So, the resources are thinner this time. The pool is not as deep for us to pull from, and it is becoming a staffing challenge every day to make sure we can take care of the rising number of COVID patients.

Really, it's just our staff that is stepping up and doing more, like they have for the last 16 months. They want to make sure that they're here for our community, but they are growing tired.

The best way, right now, that anybody in our community can help a nurse, can help a respiratory therapist, can help a pulmonologist – is to get vaccinated and encourage your loved ones to get vaccinated.

I think our concern is whenever this was impacting us the first time, we had the benefit of being in the Midwest, and so we saw COVID start off the coast and move in, and we had the benefit of time.

We had several weeks, if not months to prepare in PPE and staffing and space and get everything ready for what we knew would be that influx of patients.

This time we're on the other end of that. We think we're actually leading because we do have that 90% Delta variant in our area, and so, I think our concern is that that variant takes hold and spreads – not only in this area and becomes more acute with higher numbers over the next several weeks – but may actually start spreading to other areas around us.

Which would impact ability to move staff around to other areas of the state, the ability to move patients around and just being at a point again – where you have so many health systems that are overloaded with patients and not having that relief valve to be able to transfer patients around or transfer staff around.

Think for those living in the area. We would encourage you to get vaccinated encourage others to get vaccinated, do everything you can to protect each other, to protect your nurses. Our staff have kept their upbeat attitude for a year and a half.

At this point, but they’re getting worn down and they need some relief, and the best way to do that is to get our numbers back down to more manageable levels.

And obviously, the crux of all that is to vaccinate.

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Rebecca Smith is a reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. She was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri, and graduated with degrees in Journalism and Chemistry from Truman State University in May 2014. Rebecca comes to KBIA from St. Louis Public Radio, where she worked as the news intern and covered religion, neighborhood growth and the continued unrest in Ferguson, MO.