COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
As hospitals see record numbers of COVID-19 patients, many are dealing with an increasing number of their staff members being unable to work.
Several hospitals ABC 17 News spoke with reported dozens of employees either quarantining because of possible exposure to the novel coronavirus or contracting the virus itself. Lake Regional Health System had 37 workers out as of Monday, according to system spokeswoman Jennifer Berthuen. Boone Hospital Center officials reported 55 workers out on Tuesday, about 3 percent of their workforce. At University of Missouri Health Care, spokesman Eric Maze said 59 workers are out due to COVID-19, making up about 1% of its employee base.
Meanwhile, Missouri hospitals have more COVID-19 patients than ever. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reported 2,454 people in hospitals across the state Tuesday. In Boone County, 51 residents have been hospitalized since Nov. 1. The biggest increase in hospitalized residents came in October, when the local health department reported 58 new admissions of Boone County residents with COVID-19.
Graph: Number of Boone County residents hospitalized with COVID-19, cumulative
The Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services recently changed how it reports the strain on hospitals amid the increased patient load. The department now uses a color-coded system with red, yellow and green statuses. The indicator has been yellow since it debuted last week on the department's online COVID-19 hub.
Boone County's hospitals are also treating record numbers of patients with COVID-19. That number was at 163 on Tuesday. Of those patients, 47 are in intensive care and 22 are on ventilators.
"The care of these patients, they're sicker, we need more nurses per patient," said Laura Noren, executive director of Boone Hospital's patient care. "We do ratios, so because of that, we need more staff to care for the same number of patients."
The state of Missouri offers staffing help through the Disaster Medical Assistance Team. The group provides staff such as nurses and emergency medical technicians to providers that need help. Ryan Pratte, operations division chief for the DMAT, said the group has been "inundated" lately with requests for such help.
"Right now, we have at least six different hospitals that we’re at with 40 different personnel that are helping staff when they have shortages of different nurses and different staff, that’s when we step in and help them," Pratte said.
The DMAT is also performing COVID-19 testing at all Missouri veterans homes, as well as helping with staff at two of them.
The team's membership has surged since the pandemic started with the help of a state recruitment effort. The State Emergency Management Agency says the team has 465 people, up from the 180 on the team before the pandemic hit.
Pratte said he urges team members to make sure they're practicing mitigation efforts outside of their medical work. At MU Health Care, for example, Maze says a "vast majority" of the roughly 7% of staff that have gotten COVID-19 have done so through community transmission.
“Even though you’re home, you still have to think about those things, because it does have a domino effect. Especially in my day-to-day job, two of three providers have been out simultaneously, puts a strain on the team," Pratte said.
While Pratte said the DMAT was not designed for long-term missions such as a pandemic response, he hoped the state would embrace the work it's done so far for the community.