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Navy sends team to Christian Hospital in St. Louis County to treat COVID-19 patients

A hospital worker rolls equipment through the intensive care
Courtesy Erin Jones
Barnes-Jewish Hospital
A hospital worker rolls equipment through the intensive care unit at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in April 2020. Christian Hospital, part of BJC Healthcare, will receive help from Navy doctors and nurses.

More than 40 doctors and nurses from the Navy will arrive at Christian Hospital in north St. Louis County today to help doctors overwhelmed by the influx of COVID-19 patients.

The Navy personnel are responding to a request by the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force for federal assistance at 11 hospitals in the St. Louis region. Their arrival follows an unprecedented rise in coronavirus cases due to the omicron variant.

Christian Hospital will host the military doctors and nurses because of the large number of coronavirus cases in north St. Louis County, hospital President Rick Stevens said.

“We've been taking care of quite a few COVID cases as everyone has, but it's been disproportionately higher in north county,” Stevens said. “What this means to our staff is they get extra assistance because we've also had staff that have been out sick.”

Navy personnel are expected to be at the hospital for about a month. Stevens said the hospital needs immediate help as about 100 of its 1,800 doctors and nurses were out sick last week.

He said staff shortages and the influx of COVID-19 patients have limited the hospital’s ability to treat all of those in its care, including patients who need emergency treatment for other conditions.

“[Medical personnel] like to get you in, and they'd like to get you out because they want everybody to be seen as soon as possible,” Stevens said. “When you just get to the point where the system is just overloaded, you can't see everyone in the timely manner that they would like to see individuals.”

The Navy’s help is much needed, said Dr. Alex Garza, co-leader of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

“While we asked for help for many of our hospitals across the region, Christian Hospital was a priority because of the region that it serves and because of the amount of stress that it was under,” Garza said at a press briefing Tuesday. “It’s going to make a difference I think for the entire region.”

According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, as of Tuesday there were 15,234 new coronavirus cases reported statewide in the past seven days.

Hospital systems across the St. Louis area have reported a record number of hospitalizations and coronavirus cases over the past few weeks, though some pandemic task force leaders said Tuesday that hospitalization totals have started to trend down.

The task force reported Tuesday that hospitals in the region are caring for 1,194 COVID-19 patients, down from 1,236 on Monday.

Dr. Clay Dunagan, co-leader of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said there is hope that the rapid spread of the omicron variant is decreasing. But vulnerable populations are still susceptible to the virus, and the high number of cases could continue to cause significant strain on the region’s doctors.

“It’s going to be many weeks before we get down to levels of virus activity that we had before this surge,” Dunagan said. “We’re going to be under tremendous strain as we both take care of COVID and we try to deal with the other health care issues in the community.”

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.