Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.


As COVID-19 cases explode, a plea from Cape Girardeau hospital execs

Saint Francis Healthcare System president and CEO Maryann Reese, right, answers questions from Southeast Missourian reporter Jeff Long, foreground left, as Ken Bateman, CEO of SoutheastHEALTH and Jane Wernsman, director of Cape Girardeau County Public Health, look on after a press conference outside the Public Health office in Cape Girardeau Friday, Nov. 13, 2020.
Jon Rust

COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing in our area, and local hospital management and public health officials are deeply concerned. On one hand, there is no need to panic. There are enough hospital beds to provide services. And, in fact, anyone with health issues should not hesitate to see their medical provider for assistance, regardless of whether it is related to COVID. But COVID is putting a strain on local staffing, particularly nurses, as hospitals and nursing agencies outside the area scramble to recruit talent to other hot zones.

"It's a bidding war, and we're constantly chasing it," said Ken Bateman, CEO of SoutheastHEALTH. Bateman spoke at a news conference Friday with Maryann Reese, president and CEO of Saint Francis Healthcare System, and Cape Girardeau County Public Health officials Jane Wernsman and Dr. John Russell.

The challenge is not hospital capacity or equipment, Reese said, it is the current trajectory of cases, which is unsustainable to serve with available staffing.

According to Russell, the region has seen a doubling of cases in the past two weeks -- well above previous highs -- and without the public changing behavior, the number is expected to go up at least another 50% before the end of the month. All officials encouraged the public to take COVID precautions seriously, even though many people may be fatigued of them.

Wear a mask. Spread out when in a group. Wash hands religiously.

The recommendations were directed to people throughout the area, including in small towns, and not just in Cape County. Among the concerns, contact tracing indicates too many people are letting their guard down at social events, weddings, funerals and small group gatherings at home with friends. The virus doesn't appear to be spreading in schools where masks are worn, Russell said, but schools are nevertheless being strained, as teachers are infected in the community, creating staff shortages and putting a burden on parents.

"Everybody has to do their part," he stressed.

At the beginning of her remarks, Reese said there wasn't much new to say. We all know what to do, even if we've become tired of it, she intimated. So, instead, she shared a poem, written from her heart early in the morning, underlining that "with liberty comes responsibility."

The "flamingos" in the poem refer to the hundreds of statues placed in front of Saint Francis Medical Center, being added to daily, each representing a recovered COVID-19 patient.

A Plea from a Hospital CEO Nurse

Transcribed from news conference in Cape Girardeau on Friday, Nov. 13. Remarks by Maryann Reese

You see ... whom the coronavirus has spared,

We see ... the sick and gasping for air.

The flamingos represent saves, we are so proud,

We also see the linen shroud.

We care for our neighbors, our family, our friends,

They just keep coming. Will it ever end?

We see colleagues tired and stressed,

Burned out from all the unrest.

We are free to choose,

Just read or watch the news.

The First Amendment we do adhere,

Ronald Reagan made it clear,

With liberty comes responsibility.

Instead, I see fear and hostility.

We have the right to NOT wear a mask,

But I beg you, it is such an easy task.

Do it for a cause that's greater,

Keeping loved one's off a ventilator.

The virus, it's going to be around,

Only you can help keep it down.

When will this end?

It's in your hands to amend.

We beg for your assistance,

We beg for your assistance,

Wear a mask, wash your hands,

And ... socially distance.

Thank you Maryann for opening your heart and sharing your thoughts. And to all our medical providers, doctors and nurses: Thank you. Thank you for the many things you do that we do not see, taking care of "the sick and gasping for air."

May we double our own efforts and help where we can, even if we are tired, even if we don't like to do them. Like wearing masks.

It is the least we can do. And now is the time to do it.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.