Capacity issues at Kansas City area hospitals causing problems for air ambulance helicopters

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Unprecedented, that is the word being used by area hospitals to describe the level of stress currently on the local healthcare system. COVID-19 plus general health issues are leading to historic demand for critical care.

The result: filled ICU beds and long wait times for patients arriving at emergency rooms.

That’s according to the Kansas City Metropolitan Healthcare Council which, in a statement released Friday, said that even if all the unvaccinated people got a COVID-19 vaccine today, full immunity would be weeks away.

So even in a fantasy timeline for hospitals, capacity issues will get likely get worse before they get better, affecting everything from the ground to the sky.

Life Flight Eagle, Kansas City headquartered helicopters providing air ambulance services, can’t insulate their crews from the realities on the ground.

“And they’re seeing really sick patients and it’s exhausting mentally and physically,” Joey Araiza, VP of clinical service for Life Flight Eagle said.

The capacity issues they are experiencing are not worse for either rural or urban patients. The effects are across the board with patients and crew spending more time airborne searching for open beds.

Araiz said his people are very stressed and overwhelmed right now.

“They are of course, just like the hospitals, we have to wear all the protective equipment. And they’re working outside. The helicopters are air conditioned and the ambulances are air conditioned but the crews are outside wearing all of this protective equipment,” Araizi said.

Transfer patients often cannot find a place at the KU Hospital or at other hospitals in the metro.

“We’re turning down three-quarters of the transfer requests we have,” Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Health System said.

“We usually accept three-quarters or two-thirds but we can’t because we just don’t have the bed capacity to do that right. So that’s a concern,” Stites said.

The situation is a combination of general health issues colliding with rising COVID-19 hospitalization numbers nearing record highs.

“Numbers are up overall for the CMO team and across the city, second only to our peaks in January where we were in the mid-600s. We are in the high-500s right now in what we call the core six hospitals,” Stites said.

That means Life Flight Eagle often has to go as far as Witchita, Saint Louis, and Iowa instead of standard inter-hospital trips.

“All these facilities are just full and it’s heartbreaking that these patients can’t get to where they need sometimes,” Araiza said.

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