(Joplin, MO) – “If you want to know what my favorite number is, it’s zero,” said Freeman Health System President and Chief Executive Officer Paula Baker while standing in the now empty COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU), also known as the C-Zone.
“We’ve looked forward to this day for a long time — reaching zero active COVID cases in our hospitals,” said Baker. “I would like to thank Freeman Health System’s doctors, nurses and support staff for the courage, selflessness and compassion they’ve shown over the past two years — caring for patients with COVID, caring for patients with other conditions and caring for our community. We’re blessed to have such a dedicated and talented team of caregivers.”
At a news conference this morning, administrators and critical care nurses gathered in the
C-Zone with media to mark the milestone of zero patients in the unit. Freeman had three COVID-19 care units open during the height of the pandemic, adjusting for the number of patients needing isolation.
“We celebrate every positive moment,” said Freeman Chief Nursing Officer Jeanee’ Kennedy. “That’s how we made it through the pandemic — by finding little moments to celebrate and keep spirits up.”
The C-Zone required up to ten nurses when at capacity with patients. It was filled with the loud hum of reverse air fans and other equipment that are now silent.
“It’s never been this quiet here,” said Freeman ICU Charge Nurse Alissa Terrapin, who admitted the first COVID-19 patient in March of 2020 and volunteered to work in the C-Zone. “There was always some kind of commotion every day, with multiple patients crashing and doing all we could for them with alarms going off. To now feel a little bit of peace back here is unreal.”
When Terrapin was asked how she felt about reaching the zero mark for the number of patients, her eyes welled with tears as she said, “It is really cool. I think it’s an incredible thing, and it definitely gives us hope that things are going to return to normal.”
Baker said the hospital expects to receive more COVID-19 patients in the future but emphasized that much has been learned in the past two years and Freeman is very prepared to care for anyone who comes to the hospital for care.
“We are open for all patients, so don’t hesitate to come to the hospital,” said Baker. “We have a safe environment here for you to come, whatever your need is. We’re going to celebrate today with this empty unit and hope that goes on for a very, very long time. I just want to say thank you to all of the staff, who have fought so valiantly for the last two years to flatten that curve and get us back to normalcy.”
Baker also thanked the community for its efforts to flatten the curve by social distancing, washing their hands, refraining from getting close to people if they weren’t feeling well. She said those efforts, along with the availability of the vaccine, have saved lives.
“This was uncharted territory, so we were all finding our way,” said Baker. “Now, we have the vaccine, the booster and the second booster’s now been approved. So we have those resources, that learned knowledge and experience from the last two years, that serves us going into the future. When we look at where we were even a few months ago and where we are today, we can see the tremendous progress that’s been made. We all need to stop and reflect, feel grateful, feel proud of ourselves and feel very optimistic and confident for the future to come.”
About Freeman Health System
Locally owned, not-for-profit and nationally recognized, Freeman Health System includes Freeman Hospital West, Freeman Hospital East, Freeman Neosho Hospital and Ozark Center – the area’s largest provider of behavioral health services – as well as two urgent care clinics, dozens of physician clinics and a variety of specialty services. In 2020, Freeman earned dozens of individual awards for medical excellence and patient safety from CareChex®, a quality rating system that helps consumers evaluate healthcare providers. U.S. News & World Report named Freeman Health System the Best Hospital in Southwest Missouri for 2020. With more than 320 physicians on staff representing more than 80 specialties, Freeman provides cancer care, heart care, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopaedics, children’s services and women’s services. Additionally, Freeman is the only Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in a 70-mile radius. For more information, visit freemanhealth.com.
Lisa Olliges, Marketing & Media Relations Coordinator
Freeman Health System