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Coronavirus

MU Health leaders evaluating need for out-of-state help

University of Missouri Hospital
ABC 17 News
University of Missouri Hospital

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

University of Missouri Health Care leaders met Thursday to talk about Gov. Mike Parson's offer of out-of-state staffing help as COVID-19 patients swamp hospitals.

MU Health spokesman Eric Maze said administrators might meet for much of the day. They're examining the health system's current staff needs, finances and projected staffing needs before making a decision about whether to participate in the program.

Parson on Wednesday announced a 12-week partnership with private company Vizient to bring in more than 700 health care workers to help staff hospitals. Staffing in hospitals across Missouri has been a major issue as COVID-19 cases increase at record rates across the state.

The idea is to bring more assistance to hospitals to help with intensive care capacity and bed availability. The partnership will bring registered nurses, respiratory therapists and certified nurse assistants to Missouri hospitals.

The Arizona Department of Health Services partnered with Vinzient Inc. in July to bring on more than 600 health care workers to help with hospitals there.

Jessica Royston, a spokeswoman for SSM Health, which operates St. Mary's Hospital in Jefferson City, said SSM is having discussions with the state and the Missouri Hospital Association about staffing. St. Mary's has run into capacity issues in its intensive care unit because of the crush of COVID-19 patients.

Boone Hospital Center's Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Robin Blount said, "We are aware of the initiative and we have reached out to Missouri Hospital Association to find out more details and see whether or not we would be able to participate, so we are very interested in seeing if we can add staff through this program.”

Blount expressed the additional help is much needed within the hospital, “Honestly ICU staff would be a high priority. These patients with COVID get very very sick and they spend a lot of time in the ICU and some of them on ventilators, so ICU staff, as well as respiratory therapists, would be probably the highest priority. However nurses in general, medical-surgical nurses are highly needed and we could use them throughout the hospital.”

Heidi Lucas, State Director of Missouri Nurses Association, said she applauds the governor for getting additional help because nurses need all the help they can get. Lucas said “Any help that we can get at this time is going to be very much appreciated. Our nurses are frazzled, and they are stressed out and short-staffed."

Lucas explained nurses are having the responsibility to care for more patients than they should, “In good times you’re talking about a one to one ratio. In our ICU units, it’s usually 1 or 2  patients per nurse, right now we’re not having that happen, so we’re seeing 3 or 4 patients per nurse. Which when you’re talking about somebody who is hooked up to a ventilator who’s meds need to be monitored, who’s condition in the room needs to be monitored, that get’s to a point to where it’s not providing optimal care."

The shortage of staff is even causing some nurses who have COVID to still work and treat COVID patients, Lucas explained, “We’re getting reports that some nurses are working that have COVID and working with COVID patients if they’re able to work. If they’re asymptomatic and positive. We haven’t been hearing that a ton in Missouri, I have heard some cases in nursing homes where that’s happening, where the nurses who are COVID positive are taking care of COVID patients. I’m concerned that we’re going to start seeing that more.”

Heidi Lucas and Dr. Robin Blount both mentioned that they expect to see a huge surge of COVID patients over the next few weeks because of recent Thanksgiving gatherings. Lucas said she believes hospitals could be at capacity by next week at the rate that patients are coming in. Lucas fears for the amount of cases that will come in after the Christmas and New Year holiday, she says that could put hospitals in jeopardy until March.

The infusion of out-of-state help is meant to address a staffing shortage in Missouri hospitals caused by an increase in COVID-19 patients and medical workers getting sick or being exposed to the coronavirus. Statewide hospitalizations have remained at or near record levels since mid-November, according to numbers from the Missouri Hospital Association.

About 21% of the state's intensive care beds are available.

Boone County's hospitals continue to report issues caused by the coronavirus surge -- their status on the county health department's green-yellow-red scale is yellow. That status means some hospitals are delaying some transfers and non-urgent procedures.

Hospitals around the area have also limited visitors amid the surge in cases.

Parson didn't give a cost for the program when asked Wednesday, saying the number would become available once hospitals have finalized their requests.

"You also have to remember, whatever the cost is, this is about saving people's lives and we are going to do everything within our power to do that," Parson said.

The state will pay for the program through the end of the year when hospitals will take over funding it.

Check back or watch ABC 17 News at 5 and 6 for more on this developing story.

Boone / Columbia / News / Top Stories

Victoria Bragg

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