CoxHealth CEO Compares COVID-19 ICU Ward to War Zone

Officials at Cox Hospital told media members on Wednesday afternoon that they are dealing with a significant increase in COVID-19 patients and that the ICU ward with those patients is like a “war zone.”

CEO Steve Edwards said he used the “war zone” analogy to try and get the message through to the public that this is not the simple flu-like illness that many vocal detractors in the community are repeating ad nauseum despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

“[The COVID-19 ICU] is crowded and there is a lot of activity,” Edwards said. “I’ve heard people say that patients aren’t that sick, and there is no one in that unit, and I wanted to illustrate there are. It’s busy.”

Edwards said that on average, 60 to 75 percent of the COVID-19 cases in Cox South come from outside Greene County and are taxing the hospital’s staff. Edwards said the hospital has personal protection equipment, space, and medications for the patients, but that they may not have enough nurses should the patient numbers continue to increase in the same manner as the last few weeks.

Edwards also said the nurses and doctors who are caring for the patients are also experiencing a mental toll from the increase in cases and deaths.

“I’ve had doctors tell me they come in mornings and see people with red eyes and know that we lost a patient that night,” Edwards said. “It could be a patient that we had been caring for over 20 days. Our nurses become their main contact, so it’s more than just clinical care. It’s very emotional to them because they’re supporting them. So there is a combination of frustrations because know this disease is avoidable.”

Edwards noted the difference that masking has made in Taney County. He said a month ago most patients were from Taney County, but now there’s just two inpatients from Taney County.

“They hit a real peak, they masked, and they hit this precipitous decline,” Edwards said.

Cox’s Infectious Disease expert Dr. Robin Trotman told reporters that it’s vital those who have recovered from COVID-19 donate plasma soon after recovery, because it’s likely that antibodies will disappear over time, making the convalescent plasma less effective for critical patients.

“Once you’re available to donate plasma, you need to do it,” Trotman said.

Trotman said that the average ages of COVID-19 patients has flipped from the first six months of the pandemic. Reports from the CDC show that from January to June the majority of cases were older demographics, and from June to August it was younger demographics. Trotman said the problem with that change has younger people who may be less symptomatic or severe are taking the disease home to their parents or grandparents, who end up getting very ill 8 or 9 days later.

“The community spread starts with the younger people…we’ve seen this antidotally in the community but also empirical evidence with millions of cases,” Trotman said. “You have to have strategies to mitigate the risk in the younger population.”

Trotman also took issue with the members of the community who only look at the number of deaths and try to claim the situation isn’t severe because the death toll is lower than many had expected at the outset of the pandemic. Trotman said at that many as half of patients experience some kind of long-term health issue even after recovering from COVID-19.

Trotman was also asked about frustrations he and other medical experts feel when members of the community without medical knowledge or training dismiss warnings and refuse to participate in steps to mitigate the virus.

“I took Steve through the ICU on the way here so he could feel the impact,” Trotman said. “Unfortunately, we can’t take everyone through the ICU to see what it’s like to see 20-year-old patients on a ventilator. To withdraw care on someone who’s dying and their family can’t be there. These are existential crisis for humans and if people can’t understand that and appreciate that, then I really have no way to appeal to that. I can’t waste my time on that. We have too much work to do.”

Local health officials have encouraged the Springfield City Council to extend the mandatory mask requirements at least another 90 days.

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