Hospital CEO Urges Community to ‘Please Care Enough to Vaccinate’

Jefferson Health physician Austin Chiang, M.D.

Photo Credit: CoxHealth

In Southwest Missouri, less than 40% of area residents are fully vaccinated, which is driving a new surge in COVID-19 cases. Some counties in the Ozarks have vaccination rates as low as 20% to 30%.

Springfield, Mo.-based CoxHealth CEO Steve Edwards is speaking up publicly and loudly about the benefits of vaccination — including tweeting from his personal Twitter account. He shares stats to track increases in the number of cases and deaths and spotlights the toll on health care workers.

In a recent tweet, Edwards observed: “Inside our hospital in an avoidable surge. These are difficult, heart-wrenching moments. Staff are sacrificing their well-being to care for our community. Please care enough to vaccinate.”

Cox has said he wishes he had spoken up more forcefully, earlier. “I feel riddled with guilt that we have not [been] able to speak loud and clearly enough to encourage more vaccinations.”

Toward late July 2021, as the delta variant took hold and hospitalizations started increasing in Southwest Missouri, CoxHealth published a poignant, firsthand account, “Inside the COVID-19 unit,” on its website. The lengthy blog gives readers a glimpse of what health care workers see every day on the COVID unit.

“I wish everyone could see what we are seeing,” said Jeffrey Atkinson, a respiratory therapist working in the CoxHealth COVID unit. “Perception is key, and we have very few ways of expressing those images and scenarios. Everyone needs to be doing their best to help see this through. Wear a mask, get a shot, come work an extra shift, whatever you can do. This will likely be our legacy in health care. And no one wants to look back and wish that they had done more.”

In February 2021, with the vaccine rolling out across the community, hospitalizations for COVID-19 at CoxHealth had dropped dramatically. But the arrival of the delta variant and the area’s low vaccination rates have reversed that trend.

In mid-July, about 97% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 pneumonia at CoxHealth were unvaccinated.

“I never would have imagined the suffering that these patients go through,” said Madison Northrup, a charge nurse on the unit. “A lot of times people say or assume the worst part of our jobs are the patients dying, but that’s not the worst part. The worst part is watching our patients suffer.”

Witnessing so much suffering firsthand, care team members are pointing to vaccination as a “way out.” “I can’t tell [people] to do anything because it’s their life,” said Bailey Jerome, a nurse in the COVID unit. “But I have seen that the vaccine has helped patients, so what’s the harm in getting it if it’s between the risk of a vaccine or the risk of losing your life? That’s all there really is to it.”

Read “Inside the COVID-19 unit” on the CoxHealth website.