Michel Martin of MediaFrolic speaks to Dr. Randy Tobler, CEO of Scotland County Hospital in Memphis, Missouri, on Covid cases and staff shortages at his facility.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We’re going to start today by talking about some of the things that affect our health here in the US and the rest of the world. In a few minutes we’ll be talking about the pros and cons of the Biden government’s plan to vaccinate the world against COVID, but we’re going to start with an issue closer to our home. We are talking about a nationwide shortage of nurses. Hospital officials say they are reaching a crisis point as hospital intensive care units fill up again due to the latest variant of COVID, even as they lose staff to burnout and more lucrative temporary positions outside of the state. To talk about it, we decided to call someone we checked in with during the pandemic. That’s the CEO of Scotland County Hospital in Memphis, Missouri, Dr. Randy Tobler. He’s in a more rural part of the state, and now he’s back with us. Dr. Tobler, welcome back. Thank you for joining us again.
RANDY TOBLER: It’s my pleasure. Great to reconnect, Michel.
MARTIN: Likewise. So how’s it going? I mean, how have been the last few months since we haven’t talked?
TOBLER: At the moment we’re breathing, after we went under for perhaps the third time in August and early September. Eventually things are moderate, but as of August, Ground Zero in Missouri in Springfield, in the southwestern part of the state, was down for the Delta wave. And it was gradually moving northeast where we are and really hit us harder than the winter tide. And that, combined with the continuing shortage of nurses, which continued to worsen as the pandemic progressed, really was a perfect storm to bring us to our knees.
MARTIN: And why is that so? When nurses leave, what did they say or tell you the reason for it?
TOBLER: It’s mainly that people are jumping for money. I’ve heard $ 10, 15, 20,000 signing bonuses, shift differences that are just not in our league. We have tried to counter this by increasing our nurse scope, but even then, it is the loyalty to the hospital and community and the feeling of neighborhood that keeps some nurses going. But we’ve lost five so far in the 18 months of the pandemic.
MARTIN: In the first wave of that crisis, another issue – and that was before the vaccines – was hospital workers getting sick. Was that an issue?
TÖBLER: Yes. If you have someone who needs to take care of them, either because of a face-to-face encounter with COVID, or because of a family member, or quarantined what happened, then we are a nurse downstairs. And if you already have vacancies in your nursing staff, where do you draw people from? It just got tougher and I am so grateful to the staff who keep answering the bell that they storm up the hill every time we ask them to. I am so proud of her.
MARTIN: Well, now there are vaccines. President Biden only issued a number of mandates this month, including one for approximately 17 million health care workers in facilities that receive federal funding. Some administrators have said they are concerned that this might cause employees to quit. I understand that you are not mandated to vaccinate in your hospital at the moment. Is that exactly?
TÖBLER: That’s right. And actually, two days before the president’s speech, when he announced the upcoming mandate, we ironically sent mailings to nurses across the region and even to the state saying, Hey, look at us because we have no mandate.
MARTIN: So you were hoping it would be a draw. You were hoping that the fact that you were not mandated to vaccinate would be an attraction for you.
MARTIN: But aren’t you concerned that your staff will get sick or that patients will be exposed? Wasn’t that a problem?
TOBLER: It’s worrying, but everyone wears N-95 masks, vaccinated or not, when caring for patients. And again we have to weigh up the risk that employees will get sick and may leave us temporarily or have no employees at all because we make it an order and they jump off the ship – because that’s the other thing. The tiredness and burnout in the care sector of dealing with these incredibly sick patients and witnessing patients die without their families around – the emotional, physical and professional toll on care is simply enormous.
MARTIN: Wow. Do you think – are you confident, or at least hopeful, that there will be no more climbs in your part of Missouri?
TÖBLER: I am hopeful. I’m not confident because we just don’t see the vaccination rate accelerate as I would like. In our four county area in which we operate, the maximum and best rate of fully vaccinated people is around 35%. There are just many vaccine resistances. Usually I’ve seen people get vaccinations, unfortunately when – it’s not a six degree separation – usually a degree or two from someone who – unfortunately becomes seriously ill or dies. This is often the case when people pull the trigger and receive the vaccine who were previously resistant.
MARTIN: You know, Dr. Tobler, I know it’s hard to see how people suffer and work so hard. If you don’t mind my asking like that, what’s the worst part of all of this? What hurts the most?
TOBLER: What hurts the most is the people you work with and who you looked after – they gave birth to their babies. You operated on them because they cried loudly. And in this particular case, due to the attraction of the viral videos on social media, some people who use my credentials to spread false information believe that I think they are trusting about someone I thought we had a good relationship with Relationship. That hurts. This harms doctors, nurses, and anyone trying to encourage people to do the right thing and get vaccinated.
MARTIN: Well, Dr. Tobler, we really appreciate your speaking to us from time to time, and we definitely wish you the best as you continue to struggle through this cause. That was Dr. Randy Tobler, CEO of Scotland County Hospital in Memphis, Mo. Dr. Tobler, thank you very much for your time.
TOBLER: Always a pleasure. Thank you, Michel.
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