Jeff Roberson and Jim Salter have been reporting for the Associated Press on the Covid situation in Missouri. They spoke to Dr. Shane Wilson who works in tiny, 25-bed hospital in the rural northeastern corner of the state.
Wilson’s coronavirus routine may look similar to that in a big hospital in a big city – making his rounds in masks and gloves, with zippered plastic walls between hallways and using hand sanitizer as he enters and exits each room. But there’s one stark difference. Born and raised in Memphis, a town of just 1,800 people, Wilson knows most of his patients by their first names.
He visits a woman who used to be a gym teacher at his school, and later laughingly recalls a day she caught him smoking at school and made him and a friend pick up cigarette butts as punishment. In November, Wilson treated his own father, who along with his wife used to work at the same hospital. The 74-year-old elder Wilson recovered from the virus.
With the US now averaging more than 170,000 new cases each day, it is taking a toll from the biggest hospitals down to the little ones, like Scotland County Hospital. The tragedy is smaller here, more intimate. Everyone knows everyone.
Memphis is the biggest town for miles and miles and people come to the hospital from six surrounding counties. Scotland County Hospital’s doctors already are making difficult, often heartbreaking decisions about who they can take in. Wilson said some moderately ill people have been sent home with oxygen and told, “If things get worse, come back in, but we don’t have a place to put you and we don’t have a place to transfer you.”
Meanwhile, a staffing shortage is so severe that the hospital put out an appeal for anyone with health care experience, including retirees, to come to work. Several responded and are already on staff, including a woman working as a licensed practical nurse as she studies to become a registered nurse.
The hospital’s chief nursing officer, Elizabeth Guffey, said nurses are working up to 24 extra hours each week. Guffey sometimes sleeps in an office rather than go home between shifts.
“We’re in a surge capacity almost 100% of the time,” Guffey said. “So it’s all hands on deck.”
It’s especially difficult to watch friends and relatives struggle through the illness while a large majority of the community still doesn’t take it seriously, she said.
“We spend our time indoors taking care of these very sick people, and then we go outdoors and hear people tell us the disease is a hoax or it doesn’t really exist,” Guffey said.