COVID-19 fact check: Are Missouri hospitals really only half full?

Katie Kull
Lake Sun Leader

Republican Gov. Mike Parson had a message for Missourians in his coronavirus update this week: the state’s approach to COVID-19 is working, and hospital systems across the state are “meeting demand.”

“Of our 22,000 (hospital) beds, half are still available,” he said.

But leaders at hospitals inSpringfield andSt. Louis,who have warned the public in recent weeks about becoming overwhelmed due to record coronavirus admissions, say while that fact is technically true, it's not really accurate.

That's because the state’s coronavirus dashboard records hospital capacity based on the number of “licensed beds” available statewide, according to the St. Louis area’s pandemic task force director Dr. Alex Garza in an Oct. 23 media briefing broadcast on Facebook.

But those numbers don't measure how many patients a hospital can actually treat based on staffing levels, supplies and availability of medicine.

“It’s a little bit dangerous to start interpreting that data when you don’t have full understanding of what it’s really telling you,” Garza said. “It’s completely true that our hospitals have reached capacity ... and it’s true we’re having to turn away transfers.”

Steve Edwards, the CEO of CoxHealth in Springfield, estimated that of roughly 160 hospitals in the state, just 15 percent have the capability and resources to care for acutely ill coronavirus patients.

That's why hundreds of people have been transferred from smaller rural hospitals to Cox and Mercy in Springfield in recent months.

And hospitals also deliver specialized care, he added, limiting the types of patients that may be able to be treated in a given area.

For example, a pediatric unit at a hospital may have a certain number of beds available, but that doesn’t mean all that equipment or the nurses would have the training to care for people acutely ill with COVID-19.

"I don’t want to criticize the governor, but I don’t want to mislead the community," Edwards said. "The reality is Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield hospitals are really full."