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St. Louis Health Care Workers Feel Strain As Coronavirus Cases Spike

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Erin Jones
/
Barnes-Jewish Hospital
A hospital worker rolls equipment through the intensive care unit at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in April.

Registered emergency room nurse Cindy Lefton has a request for everyone: “Please take [the coronavirus] seriously. Please be safe, because this is real.”

“We want you to be healthy. We don’t want you to be laying in an emergency department somewhere, looking at us as you’re being told that we’re going to have to put a breathing tube down your throat, and we don’t know if you’ll ever see your family again,” she said on Monday. “Take care of yourself, and understand that we’re trying to take care of you and also trying to take care of ourselves.”

Lefton’s words are increasingly important as the number of coronavirus cases in the St. Louis region surges. Over the past week, the metro area has seen about 1,500 new cases per day. That's up 54% over last week, according to data gathered by the New York Times.

“[The numbers] are as bad as they have ever been,” said Dr. Alex Garza, commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force and chief community health officer for SSM Health. “We have hit all-time records in terms of hospital admissions and cases. … We hit a new record in hospital census for the pandemic as well.”

Reaching a new record in hospital census means that hospitals are filling beds with COVID-19 patients, essentially decreasing capacity for patients with other health care needs.

“It’s putting a tremendous strain on our workforce,” Garza said. “People are getting tired, and they’re getting worn out.”

With hospital staff taking on an increasing load of patients, Lefton hopes all patients and family members remember to thank health care workers along the way.

“We appreciate knowing that we’re making a difference in your lives,” she said.

In addition to working in an emergency room, Lefton is an organizational psychologist at Psychological Associates and the pro bono director of patient experience for the DAISY Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for and honors nurses. Alongside Dr. Jessica Nelson, an emergency room physician and intensivist, Lefton joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss how health care workers are handling another onslaught of COVID-19 cases.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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