MO Hospitals Continue To Face Staffing and ICU Bed Shortages Due To Omicron Variant’s Effect

Medical providers across the nation have been struggling with critical staffing shortages due to the spread of COVID-19.

Missouri is one of 13 states who have lost more than 10 percent of their hospital staff.

While the amount of care needed to assist infected patients has risen, masses of hospital personnel have also been forced to stay home sick in quarantine after exposure to the virus or to care for loved ones who are ill.

On January 21, Governor Mike Parson announced a specialized medical team of US military personnel, which includes doctors and nurses, would be deployed to the St. Louis region to support hospital staff strained by COVID-19.

Through a joint mission assignment, The Missouri State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), and Federal Emergency Management Agency, coordinated the deployment of a 40-member US Navy team following a request from the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

The team will continue assisting staff at the BJC Christian Hospital for a stay of 30 days.

The hospital is one of eleven in the St. Louis Area to request federal assistance due to staffing shortages and the need for additional patient care.

In addition to the loss of staff through COVID-19 related illness, St. Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau has also been feeling the effects of the “Great Resignation” as healthcare workers leave bedside care.

The Great Resignation is an economic trend in which employees have voluntarily resigned from their jobs en masse. At the middle stages of the pandemic in early 2021, many Americans left to pursue other work opportunities or passion projects after the government refused to provide worker protections in response to the pandemic, resulting in wage stagnation amid the rising cost of living.

Additionally, hospitals have struggled with growing rates of patients in need of intensive care throughout 2021.

A sweeping surge of hospitalizations arose from the wave of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, and while parts of the country have recently seen a decline in cases, areas of the South and Midwest, particularly rural areas where Omicron surges were delayed, have still seen case numbers and hospitalizations growing significantly.

Bed unavailability has even forced many individuals to relocate to long distances.

As of February 1st, 3,372 COVID-19 Patients are being hospitalized in Missouri, with

676 are in intensive care.

In Cape Girardeau County hospitalization rates have remained steady, or increased, averaging a rate of 90% bed occupancy throughout the last month.

Saint Francis Medical center in Cape Girardeau reports additional regional hospitals often contacted the hospital to accept patient transfers. In addition, during the second COVID surge in November 2021, Saint Francis received requests from as far away as Texas to accept COVID-positive transfers as Texas ICU beds reached capacity.

Hospitals in urban areas already suffering to provide care for their own communities, creating a strained relationship between themselves and critical access hospitals in need of support.

“Normally, when the system is not operating at full capacity, what would happen is that hospitals would identify a location that they could transfer a patient to,” said Dillon. “So if someone’s suffering from a case of COVID-19 that is rapidly advancing, might need ICU care. If a local hospital doesn’t have an ICU or doesn’t have the capacity, they might send them to St. Louis or Memphis or one of the other referral regions.”

Dave Dillon, Vice President of Public and Media Relations at the Missouri Hospital Association explains that staffing sickness is a partial contributor to overwhelmed hospitals, but the quarantine and isolation periods for staff create a stall in the system, reducing the overall workforce.

“What we have is a transfer crisis, but it’s on the back of what’s truly actually a staffing crisis. We have a certain percentage of our staff that are going to be infected, many of which are vaccinated and boosted so they are probably in little danger of needing hospital care, but they can’t serve at the hospital while they’re infectious. What that does is that compounds throughout the system. In some cases, we have found that Missouri hospitals have been calling as far away as Texas or outlying states, and that is not how the system is designed,” said Dillon. “For the purposes of being able to do bedside work or to be in the hospital where individuals may be immune-compromised, or medically frail, we don’t want to introduce an infectious disease into that environment. I always hate to use the term perfect storm but it is what’s happening.”

Just last week, Madison Medical Center in Fredericktown, Missouri was forced to create a makeshift ICU bed made from Walmart medical supplies to care for a patient suffering from severe pneumonia, due to hospital bed unavailability.

The medical center reported calling 15 hospitals across Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, and Arkansas, unable to find a single open ICU bed due to the surge in COVID-19 patients.

Madison Medical Center is a critical access hospital, which is a designated facility in a rural area that stabilizes patients in emergency situations and then transfers them to ICUs in larger cities.

Dillion explains the intention of deploying additional medical staff to major hospitals, such as the team at BJC Christian Hospital, which are designed to create a domino effect, providing care for more individuals, opening more ICU beds, and leading to accepting more transfers.

“We are seeing the beginnings of a trend where some pressure is taken off of the two Metro hospital communities. The numbers on positivity are going down in those communities, so when the pressure comes off the hospitals in the metros what will happen most likely is the transfers that will need to take place will go to the urban areas when it looks like they may not be at full capacity.”

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