By Ryan Lezak

On October 14, the University of Missouri Board of Curators announced its indoor mask mandate, which had been in place since August 2, would expire. Improving virus metrics was cited as the reason for dropping the mandate, but at University Hospital, the situation is much different.

An emergency services technician at University Hospital, who wishes to remain anonymous, says the hospital is still very busy with COVID-19 patients. But while the number of patients remains high, the biggest issue facing the hospital right now is a shortage of staff. This is a problem as hospitals across the country face burnt-out medical staff leaving their jobs in search of higher pay.

At the beginning of the pandemic, healthcare workers were hailed as heroes for being on the frontlines as COVID-19 rapidly spread across the United States. These workers now feel they are not being appreciated, despite continuing to treat COVID-19 patients on the front lines. The emergency services technician at the hospital says her coworkers feel tired and burnt out, especially as they are now forced to take on more patients than before as a result of the staffing shortage. This is much different than the initial waves in 2020, when there was enough staff in the hospital to treat patients and staff all beds. The main concern then was running out of physical space to put the patients that would come in sick.

At the hospital, emergency room wait times, which historically have averaged 45 minutes, now often exceed 3 hours. Many times, there are no staffed beds to admit patients to, forcing them to wait in the ER for beds to open up, causing a massive backlog of patients.

Many of the COVID patients at University Hospital come from other hospitals in mid-Missouri that either cannot handle the amount of or lack the proper care for COVID-19 patients. The shortage of staffed beds has caused an average wait time of 1-2 days to be transferred to University Hospital. This is down significantly from the surge of patients in the summer, where patients often had to wait upwards of a week in order to be transferred to Columbia.

Most of the COVID-19 patients at the hospital have not been vaccinated. Those in the hospital that have been vaccinated come in with less severe illness and are in the hospital for a shorter amount of time than the unvaccinated. 

As the pandemic shows no sign of ending in the near future, healthcare workers continue to worry about short staffing in the hospital, with the additional fear of the rapidly approaching flu season. Even though the hospital was not overwhelmed with a “twindemic” of flu and COVID patients last winter, this winter has the potential to be different, as most mask mandates have been dropped and people in the community are taking fewer precautions against the virus. University and healthcare workers continue to stress the importance of getting both the COVID-19 and flu vaccines to protect oneself from ending up in the hospital with either virus.

Edited by Ryan Cohen