Mercy hospitals in Joplin and Carthage are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients, and Mercy Joplin President Jeremy Drinkwitz is trying to get the word out that the vaccine is the key to halting this surge.

Drinkwitz summarized the dire situation at his hospitals in a tweet Thursday afternoon: “New record high with 81 inpatients, 94% unvaccinated. 487% increase since May 27.”

In a Globe interview Thursday afternoon, Drinkwitz said the situation is even more dire than the surge of COVID-19 patients during the winter.

“The highest we were in the winter surge was on Nov. 17, 2020, when we had 60 patients,” Drinkwitz said. “So now unfortunately we have set new records the last two weeks. We had a record last week. Tuesday we were at 78, and unfortunately we’re at 81 today.”

And the worst part about it is this surge is that it is preventable, he said.

“The fear of the vaccine is irrational. It just is,” Drinkwitz said. “I don’t understand it, but when 94% of people who are admitted are unvaccinated, that should be enough to tell anyone: If you love someone, you’ve got to protect them. You may hate it, you may not want to do it, but you’ve got to protect them.”

The numbers

Drinkwitz said of the 81 patients he reported, 23 are on mechanical ventilation.

The number of patients is so high that they’ve transferred nine patients in the least serious condition to Mercy Carthage for treatment.

“That’s by far the highest number of COVID patients that they’ve had (in Carthage),” Drinkwitz said. “They are doing a great job taking care of those patients the best they can. Our strategy for a while has been to take all the COVID patients here to Joplin. If patients decline, we have an ICU in Joplin, but we don’t have one in Carthage. Unfortunately we’re in a situation right now where we don’t have a choice. We just don’t have room over here in Joplin and unfortunately you can’t find a bed anywhere in the state.”

Freeman Health System in Joplin said its numbers are not at record levels but are still high with 54 patients being treated at Freeman West Hospital in Joplin and Freeman Neosho Hospital. Freeman spokesperson Lisa Olliges said Freeman’s all-time high for number of patients was 66 late in 2020.

Of the 54 cases now, 20 are in the hospital’s medical COVID-19 unit for less severe patients, 12 are in Freeman’s intensive care units for COVID-19 patients, 10 patients are on ventilators and 12 patients are in the step-down unit for patients coming out of the ICU.

In Lamar, Heidi Clark, chief nursing officer at Cox Barton County Hospital, said that hospital is treating 10 COVID-19 patients, double the number it treated in the winter surge of the virus.

Cox Barton County Hospital does not have an intensive care unit.

‘Thought we were done’

Drinkwitz said the latest surge caught everyone off guard and has been hard on the morale of medical workers who were exhausted after the surge of cases in the winter.

“Our numbers started declining after the first of the year,” he said. “We went down in March, and even in April, we were in low single digits in COVID patients, and we thought we were done,” Drinkwitz said. “We thought we had gotten through it, and we had moved on. That was about the time that the vaccine came out, and we were hoping that would be the solution and we could continue to get back to taking care of the needs of our community for everything else but COVID. Obviously that’s not the case.”

Drinkwitz the latest surge started at the end of May.

“On May 27, we had 14 COVID patients admitted,” he said. “Today we have 81. That’s a 478% increase in our in-patient COVID status. That number is astronomical, and that’s within 60 days. That pace is unsustainable, period.”

He said this surge is different from previous COVID-19 surges in a couple of ways. He said the patients this time are younger and are getting sicker quicker than before.

“The very serious, and the hard thing is we’re having 30-year-olds, we’re having 40-year-olds, we’re having 50-year-olds and a few 60-year-olds that are on the ventilator,” Drinkwitz said. “These are a younger population, and we’re doing everything we can to give them a chance at life. This time, these patients are much sicker and the requirement for ventilation comes up so quick compared with the winter surge.

Drinkwitz said the vaccine is proving effective against the delta variant of the coronavirus.

“The effects are real, the effects are legit,” he said. “If this wasn’t a political football, we would be hailing this as the greatest medical breakthrough probably in our lifetime if you think about the potential, what the vaccine is doing.”

Other hospitals

Freeman Health System is also experiencing a surge and plans to brief the media in a news conference Friday morning on the situation.

In an email to the Globe, Freeman CEO Paula Baker said the hospital’s staff is working hard to maintain the level of care in the face of the challenge posed by the virus.

“It is our privilege to be here for our local communities in the midst of a global pandemic,” Baker said. “We will be here strong until the curve has flattened.”

At Cox Barton County, Clark said that hospital is maintaining care for the community while taking in patients from other hospitals, but it has reached its capacity.

She said she couldn’t say for sure the vaccination status of COVID-19 patients currently in the hospital, but in the past, none of the patients treated at Cox Barton County Hospital had been vaccinated.

“We have the capacity to have eight acute COVID patients along with convalescing COVID patients that are out of isolation,” she said. ”Currently, we are on divert for any additional acute COVID admissions. The team of nurses and respiratory care staff work tirelessly on trying to meet the oxygen needs of these patients. It is exhausting, but rewarding. Nurses and patient care assistants are the primary contact for these patients to their families. Helping to keep them updated on their condition, along with sending back words of love and encouragement from their family is an important part of providing care for these patients.”

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