As Boone County hospitals admit a growing number of patients with COVID-19 from outside the county, Robin Blount, vice president and chief medical officer at Boone Hospital Center, implored people living in places without public health rules to “do the right thing” — wear masks and practice social distancing and other measures.
“It has nothing to do with politics, and it has nothing to do with infringing on your freedom,” Blount said. “It’s just the right thing to do. It’s taking care of ourselves. It’s taking care of each other.”
In response to the significant increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations over the past several weeks, Boone Hospital Center will increase the capacity of its COVID-19 unit from 20 to 32 beds, Blount said in an interview Monday morning.
According to an internal document sent to hospital employees Friday, the hospital has frequently reached capacity during the past several weeks and had to turn away 59 direct admissions and transfer 24 patients to another hospital during October.
Blount said the hospital is doing everything it can to care for COVID-19 inpatients, sometimes referring them to St. Louis and Kansas City hospitals, which are also burdened with inpatients. She said the hospital is also “getting creative” with bed space.
“There has been a significant increase (in patients) in the last few weeks,” Blount said. “We’re just seeing a lot more patients not only with COVID, but just patients in general from all over the state because every hospital is in the same situation we are.”
The hospital has also encountered staffing issues, as many members of the staff have been affected by the virus themselves, either becoming ill, having to quarantine or needing to provide care for someone else. About 30 to 40 hospital staff members have been absent each day for the past several weeks, Blount said.
The number of active cases in Boone County has more than doubled in the past week, and the positivity rate for the county was at an all-time high of 21.3% last week. Boone Hospital Center has seen an increase in testing, cases, percent positivity, inpatients and outpatients during past weeks. The hospital had 43 inpatients with COVID-19 Monday.
Blount said the positivity rates in surrounding counties are more than 20%, which is more than the state average.
The hospital is not only burdened by the number of COVID-19 inpatients but also by the length of stay for these patients. Blount said COVID-19 adds about about seven-to-10 days to an inpatient’s stay in the intensive care unit. More elderly people are contracting COVID-19, which poses challenges for discharging them, as many long-term care facilities will not accept new patients or patients that are not considered recovered from COVID-19, Blount said.
She said Boone Hospital Center developed a surge plan back in March but “everything is on the table” in terms of how the hospital will accommodate the current and expected influx of patients this winter, which may include suspending elective surgeries or changing the hospital’s visitor policy.
“It’s been going on for a few weeks and been getting more and more prominent to the point where often we can’t find a bed for somebody,” she said.
Boone County hospitals are talking to Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department about how to better communicate hospital capacity to the public in the Health Department’s COVID-19 informationhub. Hospitals in the area are also working to get the message out about increased hospitalizations not just in Boone County but to the surrounding counties that have fewer or no COVID-19 safety measures in place.
Boone Hospital Center, which serves a catchment area of 26 counties, is partnering with other hospitals in the area, including Truman Veterans’ Hospital and MU Health Care, to urge surrounding counties and the state to follow more COVID-19 precautions, such as masking and social distancing. Blount pointed out that even Boone County does not have a mask mandate — only the city of Columbia does.
“We know we’re all in this together,” Blount said. “So, let’s take care of each other.”