Local clinics shift gears amidst pandemic
Cox places emphasis on telemedicine, conservation
Despite the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, professional health care providers have been continuing to see patients at both the CoxHealth and Mercy clinics in Monett as usual, though some changes are expected in the coming weeks.
During a news briefing on Thursday, Steve Edwards, president and CEO of CoxHealth, said clinics were running “at full speed.” Staffing levels have been normal, but were likely to decline as a greater emphasis is placed on taking advantage of Cox’s telemedicine services.
“We started the telemedicine line two weeks ago,” Edwards said. “We saw 500 patients in the first day. If a doctor provider is needed, patients have a place to go.”
Amanda Hedgpeth, vice president of hospital operations at CoxHealth, said staff are enthusiastic about rising to the challenge of the pandemic.
“CoxHealth employees are proud to serve the community. They’ve trained for years to respond to something like this. Employees are stepping up to the plate. Now morale is very high. Our people are excited and proud to provide care to their patients.”
Patients can go to the coxhealth.com/coronavirus website and find the link for “Start a Virtual Visit” to make arrangements for a telemedicine connection.
Edwards said the stronger emphasis on telemedicine conserved on interaction with patients, and on the use of personal protective equipment.
A new addition made in many Cox facilities has been the addition of plexiglass barriers in high traffic and contact areas, such as admission desks. Patients checking in for services at the admissions desk at the north entry of Cox Monett Hospital will find one of those new additions.
Edwards still had concerns over the public response to the pandemic. He admitted he initially didn’t take word of the coronavirus outbreak in China very seriously, especially because of the distance and because China is a closed society. The outbreak in Italy raised other issues, but seemed to be explained by the older, open society there. Then the move to Spain suggested more trouble.
“The virus doesn’t care,” Edwards said. “If you’re waiting for the first case to occur in your county before doing anything, you’re two weeks behind. I’m urging officials to mandate social distancing immediately. Suppression is key to stopping this.
“We’re all very worried about the economic impact. My sense is if a community acts quickly, it will suppress the curve. It’s hard for politicians to make the move. In the end, we will be judged not for the actions we take, but for the actions we didn’t take.”
On March 20, Linda Anstaett, volunteer coordinator for Cox Monett Hospital, reached out to hospital volunteers seeking help creating masks for the staff to use. Materials had become available and those with resources to assemble them were asked to help.
The hand-sewn masks are made according to a pattern approved by the Centers for Disease Control, and made with Oly-Fun fabric, evaluated by CoxHealth’s infection prevention team as a preferable option. Anstaett asked volunteers to approach other community members with sewing resources to help in the effort. Patterns and specifics to make the masks are available by calling Anstaett at 417-354-1404.
On March 25, CoxHealth posted on social media that the system’s supplies of personal protective equipment was at a normal level, but more were being “aggressively ordered.” One order of 120,000 masks was due this week. Another 400,000 were scheduled to arrive at a future date.
“Factory-made masks will be used by providers in clinical areas,” the post from Kaitlyn McConnell, media relations manager for CoxHealth. “Home-sewn masks will be given to patients who are encouraged to wear a mask as they move about the community. Home-sewn masks will also be used by staff in select departments at CoxHealth facilities.”
“What we really need right now, more than anything, are factory-made masks from any local business or industry that might have some extras,” said Janell Patton, community relations manager for Cox Monett. “The health care industry — and Cox Monett — are critically low on N95 respirator masks. These are the masks needed to protect our health care workers.”
Access Family Care, which operates eight clinics from Aurora and Cassville locally to Anderson, Neosho, Joplin and Lamar, has continued operations without much disruption. Access spokesman Steve Douglas said the Aurora clinic was closed on Thursday and part of Friday over fears that one of the staff had been exposed to the virus. The test proved negative and the clinic was back in full operation on Monday. The Cassville clinic has continued to see patients.
“We’ve been like everyone else, struggling to keep our staff safe and in house,” Douglas said. “We’re doing all we can with patients over the phone. We’re seeing patients in the Cassville parking lot if we have to.”
As much as possible, Douglas said Access has directed patients to its telemedicine service, instructing access through signs on the doors of clinics and over social media. Access has enough staff that it has not turned patients away, depending on the options and the condition of the patient. One pregnant patient in Monett developed complications last week, and arrangements were made for her to be seen by one of Access’s physicians in Joplin.
“We’re doing as much in Aurora and Cassville as we can,” Douglas said.
Another impact of the pandemic hitting Access hard, the closing of its routine dental service, cut off the company’s major source of cash flow. Douglas said Access has been forced to lay off 80 people in the past two weeks to meet guidelines established by the American Dental Association for close contact with patient. Those who have emergency dental issues, reflected by pain or swelling, are still able to see a doctor, he added.
As for supplies, Douglas said Access established a disaster supply warehouse after the Joplin tornado in 2011. The clinics have been able to draw on that inventory, as long as supplies can be restocked. He indicated that Direct Relief, an international disaster response organization, has provided Access with supplies in the past, notably distributed in Monett and Cassville after flood events for cleaning up.
“Direct Relief has been a great partner,” Douglas said.
Calls to Mercy Health System for this story were not returned.