Health & Wealth Desk | KBIA

Health & Wealth Desk

Wednesday mornings during Morning Edition, and Wednesday afternoon during All Things Considered

KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a short 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.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

COVID-19 vaccine education and outreach are hard enough without a language barrier. But for Missouri’s Spanish-speaking immigrant communities, these efforts are critical.

Many work in high-risk environments like meat and poultry processing plants. And while most still aren’t eligible for a vaccine, health officials and providers face a number of challenges to be ready when they are.


Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

COVID-19 vaccine education and outreach are hard enough without a language barrier. But for Missouri’s Spanish-speaking immigrant communities, these efforts are critical. That’s because many work in high-risk environments like meat and poultry processing plants, in rural parts of the state where access to healthcare is already limited.

Dr. Kathleen Page is a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who co-founded Centro SOL in Baltimore. The center aims to increase education and access to care for Latinx migrants in the area, and its workload has increased since the start of the pandemic.


Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

Missouri’s vaccine rollout has been one of the slowest in the nation according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, the Parson administration is looking to change that by routing vaccine distribution through some 30 major hospitals across the state.

The state Department of Health and Senior Services is sending more than half of its weekly federal allocation of 76,000 doses to those hospitals in a bid to streamline the process.


Courtesy of MU Health Care

Last Thursday, Governor Mike Parson announced Missouri would enter Phase 1B of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, making millions of Missourians eligible for vaccination. But the vast majority of those eligible still have to wait to be inoculated. That’s because supply of the two vaccines approved for distribution — from Pfizer and Moderna — hasn’t mirrored the growth in eligibility. 

Sara Humm is with the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services department. She says the department is still prioritizing 1A — health providers and long-term care facility residents — and the first tier of 1B, which includes emergency responders. "“The state said that we could start working on tier 2," Humm said. "The reason we haven’t is we do not have enough vaccine to do so.” 

Courtesy of Scotland County Hospital

As vaccine distribution gets going, some rural hospitals are facing uncertainty when it comes to immunizing their staff. Dr. Randy Tobler, the CEO of Scotland County Hospital in rural northeastern Missouri, initially didn't expect to receive the shipment of the Moderna vaccine he ordered for his staff. While it ultimately showed up this week, he fears other rural providers won't be as lucky. 


Courtesy of Erik Martin

This is part one of a two-part report on how rural hospitals across Missouri are dealing with the surge in COVID-19 admissions. 

30 hours — that’s how long it took Erik Martin to find one of his patients a hospital bed.

Martin is an emergency physician who works in hospitals throughout southern Missouri. “It was pretty frustrating, because we had to call a lot of different hospitals and they just couldn’t help us," Martin said.


Courtesy of CoxHealth

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.


Mizzou Show Me Renewal

It’s the first time since the University of Missouri started reporting COVID-19 cases that the number of “TOTAL STUDENTS HOSPITALIZED SINCE AUG. 19, 2020” was not zero.

The Show Me Renewal dashboard was updated on Monday to two students, marked with a double asterisk.


Wikimedia Commons

A month ago, there were fewer than 60 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Boone County. This week, there were more than 140. COVID-19 hospitalizations are up across the state, with more than 2,000 people admitted as of November 7, according to the Missouri Hospital Association.

The increase was enough to push BJC Healthcare to start deferring some scheduled procedures at hospitals in the St. Louis area. Columbia hospitals aren’t there yet, but it’s not out of the question.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

This story was updated on November 5, 2020 to include comment from Dr. Jonathan Heidt.

When MU Health Care closed one of its two drive-thru coronavirus testing sites in mid-September, it pointed to a drop in the number of people getting tested. At that point, drive thru testing appointments had fallen by more than 1,000 from the peak of nearly 3,200 at the end of August. Since then, appointments have fallen further, dropping to just 1,500 the week of October 19.

Dr. Jonathan Heidt is the vice chair of operations for emergency medicine at MU Health Care and oversees the system's coronavirus testing. He says demand has fluctuated, increasing in the summer, and spiked at the end of August, as university students returned for classes. Since then demand has tailed off, and Heidt says that's worrying, especially with the positivity rate increasing. "We really should be doing more testing to find those cases and intervene on them," Heidt said. 


MU Health Care's main campus, near Stadium Blvd. in downtown Columbia.
Nathan Lawrence / KBIA

Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 are on the rise in Missouri, especially in parts of the outstate with fewer hospital resources. Smaller rural hospitals are referring patients to larger more resourced hospitals in major outstate cities including Springfield and Columbia.

For Steve Edwards, the earliest warning signs started popping up in July. As the CEO of Cox Health in Springfield, Edwards has seen hospitalizations spike since the start of September. Nearly 70 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized at Cox as of Thursday and more than 90 people have died from the disease at Cox facilities.

Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Each year in Missouri, thousands of people are held in jails, many of them before being convicted of any crime, simply because they cannot afford the cost of their bail.

To combat this problem, one local group is working on a short-term solution to this problem with a Community Bail Fund – despite the additional complications of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.


Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

In less than a month, more than 1,300 students at the university of Missouri have tested positive for the coronavirus. Case investigation and contact tracing are key components of controlling the outbreak, but students say the university is falling behind.


A return to pre-pandemic childcare subsidy reimbursements has some Missouri childcare providers feeling left in the lurch.


The VanMorlan Family from left to right – Mom Amie, daughter Sagan, dad Mr. VanMorlan, and son Damien. They are joined by their two dogs.
Provided by Amie VanMorlan

Amie VanMorlan is a mother of two, a pediatric endocrinologist and the incoming President of the Columbia SEPTA or Special Education PTA.

She sat down with me to talk about some of the concerns parents and educators have about the return to school this fall for kids with disabilities – including her own son, Damien.


Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Missouri has entered its sixth month of navigating the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and for dozens of health departments across the state, CARES Act funding has been slow to arrive.

That means crucial public-health positions like contact tracers and case investigators have been left unfilled. So, Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services has found one creative stop-gap – Masters in Public Health student volunteers.


After a night of what seemed like neck-in-neck results, Missourians have voted “Yes” on Amendment 2.

The final results were about 53 percent “yes” to 47 percent “no,” which makes Missouri the 38th state to pass Medicaid Expansion.


Courtesy of Angela Kender

More than 1,200 Missourians have died from COVID-19 since the first confirmed case back in March. With new data and every day, the human aspect of that loss can get lost in the numbers. Angela Kender is looking to change that.

After losing her mother to COVID-19 in June, Kender has decided to organize a project to commemorate her, and everyone else who has lost loved ones to the disease. She’s collecting photographs of those lost at missouricovidmemorial@gmail.com. Kender plans to take the photographs to the Missouri state capitol during the current legislative special session.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

Francisco Bonilla is a pastor who runs a low-power radio station out of his church, Casa de Sanidad in Carthage, Missouri. On a hot summer day, he’s showing me around the studio.

Bonilla mainly uses the station to broadcast sermons and religious music. These days, he’s also focused on COVID-19, which has hit a lot of Latinx workers at the Butterball poultry processing plant.


As COVID-19 Cases Increase, Health Officials Struggle To Access Federal Funds

Jun 30, 2020
Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

More than two months after the president approved a funding package to bolster local response to COVID-19 outbreaks, the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services department hasn’t received a penny. As confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to increase, according to health director Stephanie Browning the department has only been able to bring on two additional contact tracers - its retired former epidemiologist, and one of its former nurses: both on a part-time basis.

 

While the state health department has provided contact tracing support for some local health departments facing major outbreaks, Boone County health officials say they’ve been asking for help for months to no avail. Assistant Health Director Scott Clardy says it’s been a frustrating experience.

 

 

Courtesy of Erik Martin

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported the state's community testing would begin on June 29, rather than the correct date of June 26.

When physician Erik Martin left his home in Joplin to help with New York’s COVID-19 outbreak in April, his county had fewer than 10 confirmed cases of the virus. Since returning in May, those numbers have skyrocketed: nearly 300 Jasper County residents have tested positive, and more than 800 are in quarantine.

“I never expected that within such a short period of time, my home town would become a COVID hotspot, as it has now,” Martin said. He was alarmed when he first learned a patient who tested positive worked at the Butterball poultry processing plant in nearby Carthage. After seeing a second Butterball worker, he alerted the county health department to the potential outbreak.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

Meat processing plants across the Midwest have become hotspots for COVID-19. Now rural health workers are trying to keep track of workers who get sick -- and those exposed to the disease. But that’s challenging because many workers are immigrants or refugees, and there’s a language barrier.

Glenda Cervantes’s work at the Saline County Health Department usually involves helping people see if they qualify for social services. But for the last two months she’s been responding to the local COVID-19 outbreak instead.

MCDHH Facebook Page

The Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing announced today that they’re making clear, accessible masks available to Missourians.

These accessible masks have clear fronts, which allow people to clearly see an individual’s mouth while they speak. This aspect of communication is critical for those who read lips and an integral part of effective communication for those who speak American Sign Language.


Provided by Jordan Parshall

Many routine medical procedures have been postponed or rescheduled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but there is one common medical condition that cannot be put off so easily – pregnancy.

So, hospitals in Mid-Missouri have had to determine the best ways to keep moms, babies and staff safe, as well as reduce anxiety for expectant mothers.


Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

Starting Monday, May 18, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services will be recommending more testing in long-term care facilities, in an effort to increase COVID-19 testing within high-risk environments.


Diane McMillen

For hundreds of elderly and disabled residents in Missouri, personal care attendants, or PCAs, are a lifeline that stave off isolation and help them stay out of nursing homes. The field was already facing a shortage of workers before the COVID-19 pandemic began, but now, things are even worse.


Missouri Highlands Healthcare

Correction: a previous version of this story reported a COMTREA Health employee tested positive for COVID-19. The individual was exposed to the virus outside of work and quarantined, but was not symptomatic.

If someone gets sick in a seven county swathe of the Ozarks of southeastern Missouri, the closest place they can go for care is a clinic run by Missouri Highlands Health Care. Highlands is a federally qualified health center or FQHC, with clinics in some of the least populated and poorest counties in the state. Now, some of those clinics are are cutting back.

Karen White is Highlands’ CEO. She says dental care - a major source of revenue - is now restricted to emergency procedures. "“We just shuttered our dental clinic — we have three of them operating throughout the organization plus a mobile dental,” White said. She’s had to furlough a tenth of Highlands' 200 members so far, and has reduced hours for many others.


Provided by Dr. Preethi Yerram

By now, most people will probably have heard that older and immunocompromised individuals have a higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19. But for one group of patients, those who need dialysis – the normal recommendations of simply isolating at home, isn’t really an option.

Dr. Preethi Yerram is a nephrologist for the University of Missouri Health Care System, as well as the Medical Director at the DCI Transitional Care Unit and Home Dialysis Unit here in Columbia. She spoke with KBIA’s Rebecca Smith about the additional risks that individuals receiving dialysis are having to navigate during the COVID-19 pandemic – as they have to risk exposure every time they receive necessary, life-sustaining treatment.

KBIA's Rebecca Smith's cat, Pip, sleeps on his windowsill bed while keeping her company in her home office.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

When my cat, Pip, started sniffling and sneezing a few weeks ago, I didn’t give it much thought. But as the sneezing continued, I started to get worried – both about Pip, of course, and about how I was going to safely get him to the veterinarian during Columbia’s stay-at-home order.

So, I called my vet and found out they had changed the way appointments were handled. Instead of going into the office with my cat, I would call when I was parked outside, hand Pip over in a carrier from my car, and then talk to the vet over the phone about a treatment plan.

A drive-up, hands-off vet clinic.


Provided by Matthew Huffman

As COVID-19 cases have gone up in Missouri, more and more stay-at-home orders have gone into effect. But these orders, which are an attempt to reduce transmission, could, in some cases, be increasing the risk of domestic and sexual violence.

Matthew Huffman is the Public Affairs Director for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, and he spoke with KBIA’s Rebecca Smith about how domestic violence programs offering direct services to survivors – things like shelter, counseling, food, and more – are adapting and where people can still turn for help.


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