Healthcare providers applaud Joplin City Council for reinstating mask ordinance

Hospitals at capacity in COVID units.

JOPLIN, Mo. – Maria Bailey has been in healthcare for 16 years and has never seen a time when the entire system was disrupted as much as right now.

“If I were working in the ER right now, it certainly would be more stressful,” says Bailey. “It’s been, I would say, at the very least disruptive to everyone.”

She has past experience in the ER but is currently a physician’s assistant at Access Family Care. Over the last several months, she’s seen closures, restrictions, and updated policies in the hospital to protect against COVID-19.

She was one of many who spoke at Thursday night’s Joplin City Council meeting before the council voted to reinstate a mask ordinance.

“I was so disappointed when the [first] mask ordinance was dropped,” says Bailey. “You know, there’s a lot of people who don’t know how serious this disease is. And the reason is we’re so good at funneling the sick people away into the hospitals. Until and unless you’re stomping over dead bodies in the street, it may be completely possible for people to ignore the fact that we’re in the middle of a pandemic.”

“We have staff members for the first time that have gotten COVID in the last few weeks,” says Steve Douglas with Access Family Care.

In local hospitals, the stress on healthcare workers is mounting as their COVID units continue to run at maximum capacity.

“In the last couple of weeks, we’ve really seen an increase in our COVID population. Really going from the low 20’s to 30’s, to 40’s to 50’s. And a lot more in critical care who need ventilatory support,” says Kevin Manning, Nursing Director at Mercy Hospital.

On 11/20, Mercy Hospital has 44 COVID patients, and Freeman has 54 COVID patients, which is down by two from the 19th.

“We are running at capacity almost every day. We’re having to hold people in the ER until we have rooms available,” explains Dr. Dennis Estep, Chief Medical Officer with Freeman Health System.

A growing number of those patients need intensive care, which puts more strain on nurses who are already, in many cases, running on fumes.

“The normal workflow of a COVID patient is more stressful with the PPE,” explains Manning. “As we’ve seen the surge in patients, we’ve had to open additional areas for COVID patients, and it’s just really pushed everybody to the edge.”

“That intensive of an environment with wearing those suits all day long is extremely hard on staff,” says Estep. “And these patients aren’t… they’re here for longer periods of time. A normal patient, four and a half days is the typical length of stay. Whereas we will see COVID patients for about two weeks. And so that’s a lot longer time period that they’re here. Those nurses and therapists that deal with them, they get to know them, and that’s hard emotionally on the staff too.”

Mercy, Freeman, and Access Family Care applaud the Joplin City Council for reinstating a city mask ordinance, with the hopes that more community members will take mitigation strategies seriously to flatten the curve and help hospitals get their numbers under control.

“That is just the best thing, and the best news and I’ve been happy all day, all day about that,” says Bailey.

“So, it’s not the be-all-end-all. We’ve got to socially distance, we’ve got to hand hygiene properly, we’ve got to take all the measures,” says Manning. “And really when all parties are masked, it definitely helps decrease that chance of transmission. How that’s gonna help the hospital is really, we’ve got to get ahead of it really and try to stop the spread so that we can see some reduction in the volumes that we’re seeing.”

“Anything we can do to minimize that effect, that’s really what this is all about,” says Estep. “We’re just hoping that with the implementation of the mask ordinance, we will see a decline or at least not the continued escalation that we have seen over the last three to four weeks.”

“Our system is in really bad shape. We are overworked. The hospital emergency rooms across the area are overworked,” says Douglas. “This has gone from a point that, as of yesterday, emergency rooms and hospitals in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Joplin, Springfield, and St. Louis, all along the I-44 corridor, were seeing a surge in COVID patients. We just don’t have any place left to send them now. There’s no backup for us. So we would encourage any local government official to please help. We need it.”

Mercy, Freeman, and Access Family Care were all part of a letter that was sent to the Joplin City Council earlier this week, asking them to reinstate a mask ordinance.