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More than 1,000 people in the bi-state St. Louis region and nearly that many across Missouri have died of COVID-19 as of this week. 061920
Kristen Radtke for NPR

Missouri this week saw a dramatic increase in the number of coronavirus cases, with nearly 800 people testing positive on Thursday.

The seven-day average of new cases in Missouri is nearly three times what it was a month ago. As of Thursday, about 600 new cases were diagnosed each day. 

However, during the same period, the seven-day average of daily deaths dropped by 32%.

The exterior of Mercy Hospital Springfield.
Mercy Health

Mercy Health plans to lay off workers in many of its departments because the coronavirus crisis has cut its revenues. 

The Chesterfield-based health system did not specify how many people it would lay off but said in a written statement the cuts would affect every level of the organization. 

Mercy said the furloughs would begin next week and last through the end of July.

Dr. Robert Poirier works in the Barnes-Jewish Hospital emergency department. He says patients are dying because they're waiting too long to seek care in the region's ERs.
Erin Jones | Barnes-Jewish Hospital

People in the St. Louis region are dying from preventable causes such as strokes or heart attacks because they’re afraid of contracting COVID-19 in emergency rooms, doctors said this week.

Patient volume in the region’s emergency rooms is down by as much as 50%, according to hospital officials at Barnes-Jewish, SSM Health and Mercy hospitals. Doctors want to ensure patients that they won't contract the coronavirus in the ER and should seek care if they need it.

Mercy Hospital St. Louis
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 11:30 a.m. March 23 with the latest restrictions on hospital visitors

Mercy, SSM Health and BJC hospitals will delay elective medical procedures to make way for an expected surge in patients sickened by the new coronavirus.

Starting Monday, the hospital will cancel any procedures that can safely be deferred for eight weeks. The provision frees up staff, equipment and space for those with the virus who will need medical care and keeps medical personnel and patients safe.

Mercy Hospital St. Louis
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Medical marijuana is legal in Missouri, but some of the region’s largest hospital systems aren’t allowing their physicians to certify patients to use it. 

SSM Health will allow certifications for some patients. Mercy hospitals have announced a blanket ban on medical marijuana certification. BJC Healthcare, which includes Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, is still formulating its policy. 

“A lot of hospitals have decided, 'We’re not going to certify, because then nobody can tell us we’re doing anything wrong,'” Missouri Hospital Association General Counsel Jane Drummond said.

A Jamaa Birth Village client fills out paperwork to receive chiropractic care. March 4, 2019.
File Photo | Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Mercy Health has agreed to pull midwifery services from a planned primary care clinic in Ferguson after a local midwife accused the health system of stealing her business and reneging on a care agreement.

Mercy announced in August plans to build a comprehensive health center in Ferguson that would include midwifery services. That announcement prompted Tru Kellman, the founder of the nearby Jamaa Birth Village, to accuse Mercy of poaching her business and breaking a care agreement.

Brittany "Tru" Kellman joined Friday's talk show.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Since Brittany “Tru” Kellman started Jamaa Birth Village in 2015, she’s sought to provide a community-driven solution to an ongoing nationwide health issue: the racial disparities within pregnancy-related mortality rates. African American women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than their white peers.

For Kellman, who endured two cesarean sections and other challenges as a teen mom years ago, that work has been focused in Ferguson, Missouri, where she lives. But earlier this week, a letter published in the St. Louis American — and signed by many women of color who are leaders in the region — revealed a major controversy that’s been festering for months.

“As black women and Missourians who organize to dismantle reproductive oppression,” the letter began, “we write to express our outrage and demand accountability for the disrespect and unethical treatment of Missouri’s first black Certified Professional Midwife [Kellman] by Mercy Birthing Center Midwifery Care.”

Jamaa Birth Village Tru Kellman at the future site of the Jamaa Birthing Center in Ferguson.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

A Ferguson midwife and founder of a maternal health center that focuses on black women is accusing Mercy hospital of stealing her business and reneging on an agreement that would direct midwifery care in Ferguson to her clinic.

Tru Kellman, founder of Ferguson’s Jamaa Birth Village, said Jamaa agreed to train Mercy staff to administer culturally sensitive care. That agreement, reached in March, allowed for some Jamaa clients to use Mercy’s Birthing Center in Creve Coeur. 

Michael Plisco, a critical care pulmonologist at Mercy Hospital St. Louis, says vaping still carries serious unknown risks.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Across the U.S., 18 people have died and more than 1,000 have become sick from a little-understood respiratory disease linked to vaping products. In Missouri, one patient has died, and state health officials have confirmed at least seven cases.

People with the illness report shortness of breath, nausea and coughing. Doctors have placed some patients on life support or respirators because their lungs have stopped working entirely.

Until doctors know more about the effects of vaping, people should stay away from the products, said Dr. Michael Plisco, a pulmonologist at Mercy Hospital St. Louis who treated the man who died.

Mercy Hospital St. Louis
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

A handful of St. Louis area hospitals received a high rating for patient safety in a report from the medical watchdog nonprofit, the Leapfrog Group.

Most of the 27 acute-care hospitals in the  region had documented problems with hospital-acquired infections, physician and nurse training and surgical complications, according to the group, which ranks 2,600 U.S. hospitals twice a year.

The St. Louis-area hospitals that received “A” ratings include Mercy hospitals in Festus and St. Louis, St. Anthony’s in Alton, St. Joseph’s in Breese and St. Elizabeth’s in O’Fallon, Illinois.

Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

A visitor to the new wing of the Mercy hospital in Festus can likely tell immediately where the old building ends and the new part begins. The atrium still smells of fresh paint, and instead of dark, winding hallways, windows let in natural light.

Builders designed it to be prettier and more user-friendly. But Mercy Hospital Jefferson is safer, too.

Mercy Hospital St. Louis
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Mercy Health has plans to open 10 primary care offices in the south St. Louis metro area over the next two years. 

That's in addition to the nearly 20 urgent care centers the system plans to open during the same period throughout the St. Louis region in partnership with GoHealth Urgent Care. The locations of the primary care offices have not been determined yet, but they will open in south St. Louis County, northern Jefferson County and in the Columbia and Waterloo areas of Illinois.

The exterior of Mercy Hospital Springfield.
Mercy Health

Updated Nov. 27 with federal decision — Following an investigation and subsequent layoffs, Mercy Hospital Springfield is no longer at risk of losing federal funding due to reports of patient abuse. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services gave notice this month that the southwest Missouri hospital has achieved compliance with patient care standards after implementing a corrective plan.

Tara Hegger, right, looks through pictures with her cousin, Lisa Pepper. Hegger has stayed in Mercy Hospital's intensive care unit for three months, because she can't find a nursing home in the state of Missouri that will accept her.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

For three months, 32-year-old Tara Hegger has lived in the intensive care unit at Mercy Hospital.

She passes the time listening to music, visiting with family members and watching TV, mostly comedies. They keep her mind off of a painful decision that inches closer every day.

“The social worker came to me and basically told me I had to leave, because my days ran out," Hegger said, pausing between the pumps of oxygen provided by a ventilator next to her. "I had to make a choice.”

Like other Missouri patients in her situation, she will have to leave the state to find a nursing home that accepts her insurance — a dilemma tied to the state's low Medicaid reimbursement rate for long term care.

Mercy Health lays off 126 in St. Louis

Jun 25, 2015
Mercy Hospital St. Louis
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 10:25 am June 25, 2015 with details of St. Louis area job cuts and comment from Mercy Health President and CEO 

Mercy Health says it has eliminated 126 positions in the St. Louis area.

The reductions are part of a previous announcement to cut nearly 350 jobs system-wide.

The Chesterfield-based health care provider has operations in several states including Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Telemedicine is changing the health care industry

May 12, 2015
(Via Flickr/Rosemary)

In recent years, advancing technology has changed the way we go about our daily lives. From reading books on tablet devices to video chatting with a friend from afar, technology has ushered in new eras in our way of life.

But, how is technology shaping the world of health care? Health care experts joined “St. Louis on the Air" host Don Marsh to discuss how telemedicine- virtual patient-doctor interaction- is changing the industry.

Roy Blunt Visits Mercy Hospital,Talks Healthcare

Jun 24, 2013
(Kristi Luther/St. Louis Public Radio)

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri visited Mercy Hospital in St. Louis Monday to speak with healthcare workers about the implications of federal healthcare changes. He also received a tour of the hospital's Telehealth Services, often used to serve rural communities that don't have access to specialty or intensive care. 

Mercy SafeWatch is an electronic Intensive Care Unit(e-ICU) that serves Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Blunt learned how Mercy is able to provide an extra set of eyes and ears for doctors that can't always be there in person.

(via Mercy)

A "first-of-its-kind in the country" virtual care center" in Chesterfield is just one part of a plan announced by Mercy Tuesday to invest $2.4 billion into the St. Louis area.

The care center and additional investment are portions of a $4.6 billion all-Missouri health care investment initiative from Mercy, designed to distribute the investments over the next eight years.