What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Many in Missouri are unvaccinated. Hospitals are paying the price as delta variant spreads

The coronavirus' delta variant is battering many low vaccination areas in the U.S. Missouri is among the top five states in terms of new cases and hospitalizations, with nearly 7,600 new confirmed or probable cases and seven deaths the past week. Hospitals are straining to respond. Erik Frederick, the chief administrative officer at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, joins Stephanie Sy to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The CDC's guidance for schools to fully reopen this fall and to allow fully vaccinated students to go without masks is yet another sign of how the U.S. is shifting its approach to the COVID pandemic.

    But even as the push for regular routines grow, the Delta variant presents its own risks, especially to those who aren't vaccinated. Some states in the South and Midwest have low vaccination rates.

    Stephanie Sy looks at one dealing with a spike in cases, Missouri.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Judy, Missouri is one of those states where the Delta strain is leading to a rise in cases. It's among the top five states when it comes to new cases and hospitalizations.

    Missouri has reported nearly 7, 600 newly confirmed or probable cases in the past week. Fortunately, the number of reported deaths remains low, only seven confirmed in the past week. But there are regions, particularly in the Southwest part of the state, where vaccination rates are well under 35 percent or 40 percent.

    Hospitals in those areas are grappling with serious illness and a strain on resources.

    Erik Frederick is the chief administrative officer at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, joining us now.

    Mr. Frederick, thank you so much for being on the "NewsHour."

    Describe what you're seeing at your hospital and how it compares to the height of the pandemic last winter, when many hospitals around the country were overwhelmed.

  • Erik Frederick:

    Yes, thank you, Stephanie, I appreciate you having us on and giving us this opportunity.

    I was looking at the numbers earlier. And, just to put it in perspective, we kind of mark — we have two surges one last year, and now the current one. Mark this current surge starting on June 1, where our inpatient census for COVID was 26. And, today, we're at 128, which is the highest census we have had the entire pandemic, so 39 days to go from 26 to 128.

    Last year, our peak started on September 1. And it took us 150 days to make that same escalation. So, it's alarming to have your patient census with COVID grow that fast over such a short period of time. We have had plans in place the entire time. But the ability to deploy that plan even faster than we did last year is where that strain came on our resources over the last couple of weeks.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Well, let's talk about that, Mr. Frederick.

    What shortages, if any, have you experienced to care for these new patients? I understand that having enough ventilators has been an issue.

  • Erik Frederick:

    We certainly strained our ventilator resources last week, and we pushed them to the edge.

    We have a number of ventilators that we keep on hand, and with some additional resources like transport ventilators, should we have to move patients. Our plan allows us then reach out across our ministry. Mercy is a pretty large system with multiple hospitals.

    And part of our plan is to be able to lean on our sister facilities for some of their resources, should we need them. And so we saw a rapid escalation from Thursday through Saturday. And we really pushed right up against our on-hand inventory right up until we were — know that we were going to utilizing that last ventilator.

    And we pulled that part of our plan out and quickly rallied some resources. And they were delivered on time. So, the good news is, we never had a gap where we had patients that needed resources we didn't have. But we had to act pretty quickly. And, luckily, our plan allowed that to happen.

    As of today, we have plenty on hand for this continued rise. And we can get to more if we need it.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    What about ICU capacity, staffing shortages or any of those issues at this point?

  • Erik Frederick:

    Yes, so from a bed capacity, we have got beds. We have stretched our ICUs.

    During the peak last year, we really had one dedicated ICU for COVID patients. This year, what we have found is, we have to stretch into a second. So we're really looking at two dedicated COVID ICUs. And then we have a third ICU that we have for those non-COVID patients, and actually have just stood up a fourth ICU. It was a closed unit that hadn't been utilized in a while.

    So we stood that back up for some flex capacity as well. So that takes additional resources, equipment, other beds. We have multiple COVID units for different acuities of patients. So, those that are less sick, but still have COVID community around the hospital.

    But you hit on it. Ultimately, it's a staffing issue, right? So I think we hear a lot from people who say we have got plenty of beds. I have had people in the community say, how can you be stretched when you have 800-something beds?

    And people, I think, don't realize that beds are not just beds. They're specialized beds. There's behavioral health beds. There's pediatric beds. And when you really get down to the number of beds you have to care for this type of patient, it's not all the beds you see on the license that's hanging on the wall.

    And so — and then, ultimately, what it comes down to is, do you have the staff to put around that bed? And that's what really — you can have all the beds in the world, and if you don't have the nurses and doctors and technicians, then you can be in a bad spot.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Well, I'm glad to have the staff.

    But I did read that there are a lot of patients in the ICU. In fact, I saw you tweet, more than 80 percent of them are on ventilators, a lot of severe COVID cases you're dealing with.

    Out of those cases and deaths, Mr. Frederick, are those all unvaccinated people?

  • Erik Frederick:

    Yes, so the — definitely, the percent of ICU patients on ventilators is alarming. I think it was 88 percent is what I had counted the other day. Today, we're a little bit lower than that, but still above 80 percent.

    That's not what we saw last year. It was usually around 40 to 50 percent of our ICU patients were on ventilators. I will say, as we keep toll of who is vaccinated in-house and not, what we're seeing is less than 5 percent of our patients are fully vaccinated.

    And none of those patients to date have ended up in the ICU or at the highest level of care. So, even though there may be some that are vaccinated, the numbers are pretty low, and they usually end up in our lower level of care, recover, and go home. I'm not aware of any that have died in our facility at this point.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Erik Frederick at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri.

    Mr. Frederick, thank you for your time.

  • Erik Frederick:

    Thank you. I appreciate it.

Listen to this Segment