Officials in Missouri ponder preparedness for the COVID-19 pandemic

Missouri Coronavirus

Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 have been on the rise in Missouri and other states, and experts say the consequences of being unprepared for an infectious-disease outbreak have never been more apparent.

Gov. Mike Parson has cited concerns about staffing levels with the demand hospitals are seeing from the crisis. His comments coincide with calls from health-care analysts to re-examine pandemic readiness.

At Tufts Medical Center, Chief of the Division of Geographic Medicine and Infectious Diseases Dr. Helen Boucher said with a potentially effective vaccine on the horizon, state and local governments should begin thinking about new policies and procedures for future public-health threats.  “It’s really important as we think about pandemic preparedness to focus on surveillance,” said Boucher. “And so, that’s the science of looking at what viruses and bacteria are circulating in humans, animals, and the environment. And making sure that we’re aware, and on top of, any unusual spread.”  She said she also believes federal and state officials should focus on monitoring potential virus threats, and invest in adequate supplies of basic medicines and equipment.

This fall, the Missouri Hospital Association released an assessment of how systems across the state have fared in the pandemic, and what’s needed moving forward. Improving communication and coordination with local public-health departments was cited as a need.

At the association, Vice President of Media Relations Dave Dillon said the industry has been navigating staffing challenges for a while.  “We came into the pandemic with workforce challenges in the health-care community,” said Dillon. “And right now, you know, that is probably our greatest threat,”  Dillon said many systems have staff members at or near retirement age, without a robust class of younger workers to replace them. He said the pandemic has inspired more younger adults to become nurses and doctors, but it will be a while before they’re ready to enter the workforce.