On the surface, a decrease in coronavirus cases could be seen as a relief for many, especially Mosaic Medical Center - Maryville, but its president, Nate Blackford, said he expects worse challenges to come with the upcoming flu and cold season. He said his staff is strong, but growing weary at the possibility of a surge of new cases in the coming months.
Blackford described the last nine months for doctors and nurses at Mosaic as a marathon. Despite the long jog, he said the staff at Mosaic are still resilient. The hospital had to increase the space that is dedicated to COVID-19 patients and utilize temporary, movable wall structures to change the size and shapes of their isolation areas when needed. Another growing concern is the availability of beds in the ICU as cases increase across the state.
“I think our challenges ahead are probably more significant than some of the challenges that are behind us,” Blackford said.
As of Nov. 23, there were 98 COVID-19 positive patients throughout the entire Mosaic Life Care system, including Maryville, St. Joseph, Missouri and Albany, Missouri.
Blackford said seven of the 98 COVID-19 positive patients were placed in the ICU.
As of Dec. 1, ICU capacity is down to 20% based on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
With limited room in hospitals, the president of Mosaic - Maryville noted that these changes are made based on the balance of the volume ratio of COVID-19 patients to other patient needs, such as surgeries.
This is a common theme throughout Missouri hospitals, with the Missouri Department of Mental Health releasing resources to help cope with the stress that healthcare workers are facing during the pandemic.
Blackford said Mosaic has benefit structures with financial incentives in place to compensate for extra shifts that have been picked up from staff who are not able to make it to work, but these benefits are not unique to staff working through the pandemic.
He acknowledged repeatedly that this line of work is already stressful as it is, and the pandemic has taken a toll on caregivers.
“It’s a very stressful time,” Blackford said. “We are doing our best to try to take care of those who take care of our patients.”
Mosaic - Maryville has implemented employee assistance programs that allow caregivers to step away from direct patient care. This means healthcare staff can take some time away from the stress that comes with caring for patients, while someone else would fill that role.
Blackford mentioned that Mosaic - Maryville also provides programs and tools for employees that aid in financial, emotional and mental support.
Blackford noted that the hospital does its best to look out for its staff and the staff often look out for one another as well.
The Northwest Missourian pursued interviews with staff at Mosaic - Maryville for a first person account of working during the COVID-19 pandemic. Community Relations Manager Rita Miller asked several nurses and doctors at Mosaic to be interviewed.
In an email to the Northwest Missourian, Miller said she was having a difficult time finding people who were willing or had the time to do an interview.
“Several are out sick, and the others are stretched filling in to see all the patients,” Miller said.
At Mosaic - Maryville the amount of hospital staff out with COVID-19 is higher than the state average of 3-10%; they are currently sitting at 5-10%. Additionally, mental health services for patients has been temporarily shut down due to an increase in positive cases among the staff.
The amount of positive cases between the Mosaic - Maryville staff is reflected by an increase in cases in the community.
The unpredicted spike in COVID-19 cases across Nodaway County has dwindled by a little more than 100 cases. As of Nov. 28, the latest data available at the time of publication, there are 250 current cases and a seven-day rolling average of 21 cases.
With all these statistics in mind, Blackford spoke at the Nov. 23 Maryville City Council meeting to give a hospital update. At that meeting, there was a seventh emergency order discussion that added to the enforcement of the face covering mandate. With this enforcement, the goal is to decrease the number of cases in Maryville.
However, Blackford said at the Nov. 23 City Council meeting that as the temperatures drop, COVID-19 cases will rise.
An October NPR report projects the national COVID-19 deaths to be in the lower 300,000 to the upper 400,000 range by February due to the winter months ahead.
With case numbers only rising statewide, Blackford said Missouri hospitals and Mosaic - Maryville are going to have to keep adapting with the growing numbers of cases, which is unlikely to make the jobs of these frontline healthcare workers any easier.
“(I am) very proud of our staff for how they have rallied around not only our patients during this difficult time but also around each other,” Blackford said.