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Health & Science

Missouri Hospitals Are Struggling To Cope With Summer Spike Of COVID-19

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And we're going to head now to southwest Missouri to check in on how this summer's spike in COVID-19 is playing out there. We know the combination of the delta variant and low vaccination rates is proving deadly. We know hospitals are struggling to cope. So we reached out to Erik Frederick, chief administrative officer at Mercy Hospital Springfield in Missouri. He told us compared to last year that this summer, a higher percentage of his ICU patients with coronavirus are on ventilators. They're sicker than last year. More are dying.

ERIK FREDERICK: As we got through the initial surge in June, what came in July that followed was a pretty significant number of deaths - in fact, 78 in the month of July, which put us at about 2 1/2 a day. And we've started off August even higher at about 3 1/2 a day. It's unfortunate. I think since July 1, about 17% of our patients that have been admitted for COVID have died. And that's just - it's remarkable, and not in a good way.

KELLY: Is what's going on here - patients who are sick enough to have to be on a ventilator and in the ICU are sicker than ones that you were seeing in past. That's what's going on?

FREDERICK: Correct. Yeah, we definitely see...

KELLY: OK.

FREDERICK: As we talk to our physician colleagues, they're definitely telling us that they're seeing younger and sicker patients in ICUs. Last year, we probably - around 40% of our ICU patients on ventilators. And now, again, we're typically in the 80s and on days like today, even up in the lower 90s of our ICU patients on ventilators.

KELLY: Yeah. What kind of patients are coming in? These are vaccinated people, unvaccinated, young, old?

FREDERICK: So what we're seeing is largely unvaccinated patients. Probably about 92% of our admitted patients with COVID are unvaccinated. We're seeing a decrease in the average age, especially in the ICUs and stepdown units. We're seeing folks in their 20s and 30s and 40s, whereas, last year, it was typically much older and with co-morbidities or other health issues. And then the ones that are admitted who are vaccinated are not typically found in the ICU or on ventilators unless they're much older and have other health conditions. So, you know, large percentage of the patients are unvaccinated.

KELLY: And what are you hearing from people about why they're unvaccinated, why they have not gotten the vaccine?

FREDERICK: We're definitely still hearing people that are saying, you know, that the vaccine's not safe. They don't think COVID is as serious as folks like I am reporting. It's very often we'll put a - like today, I put a tweet out about, you know, the number of deaths that we'd seen, that it was pretty significant, you know? And inevitably, I'll get someone comes back and go, what's the percentage of the total? And they'll - you know, they try to explain it away, I think, and say, well, if it was less than this percent and this percent or if it's - and you're just like, these are people. It's 78 people that live in our community that died last month.

It can be very frustrating for those of us who kind of deal with this every day or support the people that are trying to provide this care to say I'm - you're trying to reason with someone or trying to kind of call on their humanity a little bit. And it's hard to get through some people.

KELLY: Yeah. Oh, I can imagine it's frustrating because so much of this is preventable.

FREDERICK: Yeah, without a doubt. I think we estimate probably about 89% of the deaths that we've seen from COVID over the last couple months were likely preventable if someone had gotten the vaccine.

KELLY: How about personally? Are you feeling hopeful? Are you feeling kind of scared looking at what might be coming down the road?

FREDERICK: Yeah, that's a good question. I'd like to think that I'm a perpetual optimist. I'm a little concerned about what's going to happen in the fall. I'm concerned for our kids. I'm - I have four children. Only one is vaccine-eligible at this time. He's 12, and he's vaccinated. My daughter will be eligible here another month, and she'll get vaccinated as well. My two youngest aren't. And I'm concerned about that so - just as a parent. I'm hopeful, though, in that, you know, we're learning as we move. We're learning how to better care for people. We're learning the things that need to be done or things that can be prevented.

So I'd like to think that we can continue to manage this, although what we're managing is a very serious situation. And it's a very real situation. And I sort of wish that people outside of the walls of the hospital share that viewpoint with us. There's plenty of people in our community that are vaccinated. And they're supportive, and they're doing what they can to help get the word out and encourage people. But we're still well below 50% vaccinated in this community.

And so, you know, you take that. And you look forward and say, well, you know, I worry that the next variant - I just worry that they'll come faster than we can get the vaccination rates up. So I'm hopeful that we're going to get through it at some point. I'm just worried about the toll it's going to take on the journey to get there.

KELLY: Yeah, I hear you. That is Erik Frederick, chief administrative officer at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Mo. Thank you so much for joining us.

FREDERICK: Thank you so much. I appreciate your time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.