Rural community saw highest COVID-19 hospitalization spike amid summer delta surge

Rural hospital shares experience of handling Delta case wave
Posted at 2:56 PM, Sep 08, 2021

CoxHealth in Springfield, Missouri is coming down, as of last week, from handling the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations they’ve seen to date.

“It looks like a war zone. One of our physicians took a picture. We had two patients side by side coding simultaneously, there were five staff around them,” Steve Edwards, the president and CEO of CoxHealth, said.

Just a few weeks ago, CoxHealth held more than 187 COVID patients, the highest spike yet. And while that number is going down, all eyes were on Missouri as it became a hotbed for the delta variant.

“Being kind of a rural epicenter, we had that duty to communicate back to the rest of the country what we were seeing,” Edwards said. “It began to rapidly accelerate and we saw the data show that the delta variant had gone from maybe 10% to 100%, virtually 100% of our patients. And then we hit a peak of 187 patients which exceeded our winter peak.”

It’s a trend the National Rural Health Association is seeing everywhere.

“Right now, COVID cases, hospitalizations and mortality per population are all trending much higher in rural communities than in urban communities,” Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association, said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, CoxHealth started an open-ward style COVID ICU, finished in just two weeks, to help treat COVID patients.

“It’s organized chaos,” Edwards said.

The unit was closed in April as COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped.

The unit was reopened this summer for the spike they started seeing in July.

“I remember trying to look up at the windows and count the days, and the nights,” Kim McCully-Mobley said. She was hospitalized and brought to this exact unit earlier this year in February, after contracting COVID-19.

“It’s kind of surreal because everyone was masked and gloved and double masked with their PPE and stuff and then they’d have these little hats on with lights on top and kind of look like aliens or martians or something and just running around at all times day and night,” she said of the experience.

She lives 40 minutes southwest of the hospital in the town of Aurora, Missouri. Her flight with COVID left her in the hospital for weeks, and on a ventilator for eight days.

“It was pretty critical, I think my oxygen levels were pretty low,” she said. “My son kept asking me to fight.”

After three weeks in the hospital, she spent months recovering. Her son documented her journey on social media for friends and family.

“I had to practice everything,” McCully-Mobley said. A mural project that sits next to the Aurora water tower -- in part -- helped pull her through.

“It really gave me strength and energy and kind of a reason to dive back in and do all the things that I love. And the dedication on June 11, that was my 60th birthday,” she said.

She said she’s almost fully recovered. She’s grateful.

“Life’s messy. Some of us get a second chance and sometimes the human spirit is extremely and wonderfully resilient and sometimes it’s really fragile. I don’t know why I’m still here except maybe my work isn't finished yet, is what I’m hoping. Maybe I get to finish some more things. I’d like to do a mural a year and see how many we can get,” she said.

It’s for people like Kim that healthcare workers continue to fight. A battle that Edwards says, is not over.

“Now I think the challenges for our staff is we’re seeing our numbers ease, but all around us hospitals are full,” he said. “We have this civic duty, moral obligation to help take care of other regions because they helped us.”

“I really still think they’re our unsung heroes and I had wonderful care and they really get my respect,” McCully-Mobley said.