JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Some COVID-19 patients are being turned away from an overwhelmed Springfield hospital where cases are surging and taken to less-stressed hospitals hundreds of miles away in Kansas City and St. Louis.
CoxHealth system president Steve Edwards said Tuesday that the hospital in Springfield was on "COVID diversion" as the Delta variant gains momentum in the southwest part of the state, where large swaths of residents aren't vaccinated, the Springfield News-Leaders reports.
He said four Cox patients recently were transferred to BJC HealthCare, a St. Louis-area health system with 14 hospitals including Barnes-Jewish, a big teaching hospital tied to Washington University's medical school. Another four Cox patients have been transferred to St. Luke's Health System in Kansas City, Edwards said.
Edwards cited internal Cox data showing 47 COVID patients transferred into Cox facilities from June 1 to 21, many of them from hospitals in smaller communities such as Lebanon and Mountain View, while 23 transferred out.
At the city's other hospital, Mercy Springfield, patients haven't been sent to bigger cities so far, said president Craig McCoy.
Dave Dillon, a spokesperson for the Missouri Hospital Association, said one problem is that "hospitals aren't as well-staffed as during the surge" of COVID-19 infections from last winter.
"Many have reduced the expensive agency staff that helped then get through the high hospitalization months," Dillon told the News-Leader by email on Tuesday.
Many pandemic contracts between hospitals and temporary workers such as traveling nurses have expired, including a big state contract between Missouri and Texas-based healthcare staffing firm Vizient Inc.
"Those staff have probably departed for their next placements," Dillon said.
Another problem cited by health care leaders is the return of patients who need hospital care for non-COVID treatments.
"It is fair to say that hospitals are already stretched to address pent-up demand for health services that were curtailed last year, and into spring," Dillon said.
The patient transfers come despite the reality that vaccines are available at no charge within 5 miles (8.05 kilometers) from home for more than 80% of Missourians, as Gov. Mike Parson said on Twitter last week.
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services' acting director, Robert Knodell, said in a statement that the agency was working local and federal health officials and healthcare systems to provide resources and data analysis.
"We continue to promote and encourage vaccination as the most effective mitigation step the public can take to stop this virus in its tracks," he said.
Dillon, with the state hospital association, said that because effective vaccines are now available, COVID-19 hospitalizations are "largely unnecessary."
Meanwhile, a COVID-19 outbreak hit an office building for state workers in Jefferson City. The Office of Administration on Tuesday said 15 employees working within the Truman State Office Building had tested positive, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
"Due to this concentration of positive test results, over 100 employees in this area and the close contacts of the infected employees were offered COVID-19 testing," Chris Moreland, spokesman for the Office of Administration, said in an email. "Close contacts of the infected employees in the impacted area were asked to work from home pending their test results."
He said that while state employees were not required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, the agency "strongly encourages people to do so as a COVID-19 vaccine is the most effective way to prevent contracting the virus."