CoxHealth released pictures and stories from inside the health care system’s main COVID-19 unit in Springfield, where staff were sharing stories of struggle, stress, and attempting to maintain a positive attitude despite being surrounded by critical illness and death.
Many of the nurses spoke about being “exhausted, overwhelmed, and overworked” and that many have sought counseling to deal with the trauma they’ve seen on a daily basis.
A member of Cox Medical Center Branson says the staff at their facility is going through many of the same situations, despite a smaller COVID unit.
Cox Medical Center Branson Director of Nursing Adene Smith told Branson Tri-Lakes News that her staff is dealing with many of the same issues, but also the added stress from having to send patients to other states because of the lack of available space.
Branson Tri-Lakes News: What is the current state of the COVID-19 unit at Cox Medical Center Branson?
Adene Smith: Our unit here in Branson holds six patients in our critical care unit. That unit has been full for over a month now. We had a little bit of a downtime, I want to say around April, when we thought we were going to get ahead of this. Once the masking mandates were lifted we saw a resurgence and it was very quick.
We saw patients come in and it’s been very busy. We are, as you are aware, a tourist community. So on top of our already busy time of the year, which is the summer time, for our emergency department, we have COVID cases coming in.
With our full unit we have to send some of our patients to other locations. So if Cox South can’t take them, we have to look for hospitals who can take them.
BTLN: How far away have you had to send patients?
AS: Arkansas, Oklahoma, anywhere that has a bed in the United States, honestly. Cox South is always our first call. If they can’t take them there because they are extremely full, we work to find the next closest location that can take them.
BTLN: Are the patients you’re treating vaccinated?
AS: No, they were not.
BTLN: All of them?
AS: I would say 97 percent of them are not vaccinated.
BTLN: Cox South released photos and stories from inside your health system’s main COVID-19 unit and it’s shown the pressure and stress on staff. How is the current situation impacting your staff at Cox Branson?
AS: It’s very disheartening for us. Knowing that this is something that is preventable. I know not everyone can get a vaccine for one reason or another. It could not be recommended for them in particular.
The fact that it’s preventable and we have one of the lowest vaccination rates is really disheartening to see people coming in and they’re coming in sicker. To have to send them to another location is heartbreaking.
BTLN: COVID-19 has become politicized and has many on social media commenting that the virus isn’t a real threat, that it’s just like the flu, and other justifications for not getting a vaccine. How does seeing those kinds of responses to your pleas impact your staff?
AS: It’s really hard not to respond to those inaccurate Facebook posts and just things out in the media. We just have to keep doing what we know is right, giving the factual information to people who will listen to it, and hopefully if we can get people to continue to get vaccinated it’s the best thing we can do. But it’s very disheartening to keep seeing patients, and having that unit full. It will be a great day when that unit is empty.
BTLN: Are we still at a place with the variants that we don’t really completely understand what we’re up against?
AS: I think we know what we’re up against. The question is whether we’ll require boosters after we get the vaccines because this Delta variant spreads much quicker. But what we do know is vaccines keeps people out of the hospital. So if you end up getting a variant it keeps you from getting very sick so you end up in the hospital.
BTLN: A number of critics say they won’t take the vaccine because it’s not guaranteed to stop you from getting COVID-19.
AS: Nobody ever said it was. I think that’s a misconception. It helps you like the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine, you can still get the flu, you just don’t get extremely sick when you get it. It’s the same thing for the COVID vaccine. It doesn’t prevent you from getting it, but it reduces the chances of you being extremely sick.
BTLN: How do you and your staff deal with the mental health challenges that come from what you’re facing daily?
AS: I did a little Facebook post about nurses having the instinct where we put hard things we deal with in a box. The way to deal with the hard things is you put them in a box and you put them on a shelf. Sometimes we take it off and we deal with it, and sometimes we don’t deal with it.
COVID is one of those things that there’s been so many hard things over this last year and things that have happened so quickly, we haven’t had time to stop and really process things. I can tell from looking at the nurses that work here that everybody’s tired, everybody’s drained, and we’re tired of seeing people die.
We don’t want to be the one to tell a family member that you’re not going to make it. That’s one of the worst jobs we nurses have.
These nurses are working extremely hard, and we know there is a lot of negativity out there, but if you see a health care worker take some time to thank them. They’re busting their hump to get these patients taken care of. We don’t want to see people get sick and pass away. We want to get them home. That’s what we do this for. So it’s really hard for us to continue to see people who don’t make it.
BTLN: If you could just speak directly to those who have been critical of medical experts and those hesitant about vaccines, what would you tell them?
AS: I would say get educated about it. Do your research before you make a decision, because that’s the best way to understand something. Go to legitimate websites. Go to hospital websites. Go to the New England Journal of Medicine. Ask your primary care provider about your concerns. They’re the ones that will help guide you and help you get away from that fear. The vaccine is not something to be afraid of.