Kansas City hospitals say short staffing, high COVID cases could impact other patients

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Children’s Mercy Hospital has reached a new peak of COVID-19 patients. Doctors now share concern as the hospital heads into its busiest time of year, taking care of kids with RSV and the Flu.

“We still have about 10-15 patients with RSV every day,” Dr. Jennifer Watts said.

She’s the chief emergency management medical officer at Children’s Mercy.

Watts said throughout the pandemic, the hospital has never seen more than two dozen COVID-19 patients a day. That changed Tuesday.

“We peaked at around 22,” Watts said. “We’ve never been above 30,” she said. “We’ve never been above 25 until Tuesday. So we are increasing at a rapid pace.”

Children’s Mercy counts 30 patients at the hospital with COVID-19. Nearly a third of those kids are in the Intensive Care Unit.

“A week ago, we were at 15,” Watt said. “So we’ve doubled in the last week.”

As the hospital sees an increase in pediatric patients, they struggle keeping staff healthy.

As of Tuesday, 327 employees were out sick and that’s on top of an employee shortage happening across the nation and the Kansas City metro.

Dr. Steve Stites said the University of Kansas Health System has three times fewer staff this year compared to this time last year.

Because of that, the hospital has deferred 189 surgeries and 20% of their clinical outpatient appointments.

“That’s new for us,” Stites said. “We were in the middle of a delta surge when omicron came. So we really have two surges at once. I think that has made our situation a lot harder.”

Compared to last year, HCA Midwest Health reports double the number of deaths just for the past month.

On Wednesday, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services announced a temporary discontinuation of its at-home test ordering system, citing a significant increase in demand. The pause on their ordering system is to let them catch up on shipping tests out.

The situation also demonstrates how many people out there think they might have COVID-19 but can’t prove it.

That means the true COVID-19 case count might be much higher than the numbers currently reported. The more valuable information now might be looking at how many people are ending up in the hospital.

Before the holidays, there was general shock at the bluntness of the statement the White House COVID-19 Response Team put out on Dec. 17.

“For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm,” said Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator.

Now that prediction is proving true at Kansas and Missouri hospitals.

Dr. Kim Megow, Chief Medical Officer at HCA Midwest Research Hospital, compared our current situation to the last surge in December 2020.

“As far as staffing goes, as compared to last year, we probably have 4-5 times more people out or fewer staff,” Megow said.

Fewer staff and more COVID-19 patients inside Children’s Mercy than ever before could cause serious problems.

Watts’ team continues work with extremely creative staffing to keep their trauma center open so the everyday kid who gets hurt in a car crash or in a sledding accident can be treated.

“So it’s really hard to take care of everybody, and we are doing our best to kind of shuffle around, but I’ll tell you our options are extremely, severely limited,” Watts said. “We are scared of where this is going to take us over the next few weeks.”

Watts said it’s also a concern because we don’t have multiple children’s hospitals in the Kansas City area.

Hospitalizations, however, are low when compared to positive case totals. Even so, KU Hospital and Research Hospital said enough people need critical care that it’s forcing them to make tough choices.

“So we’re unable to take simple thing like appendixes and broken hips due to all the sick patients,” Megow said.

“We know for sure that the rural hospitals are having great difficulty getting critically ill patients into the larger facilities in the metro area. And that is a way to ration care because those patients are not getting the standard of care that would otherwise be provided and is putting rural hospitals in a really bad position where they’re trying to make up ways to dialyze kidney patients,” Megow said.

“That is almost barbaric but they’re doing it heroically because care is being rationed,” Megow said.

So when and if they need to transfer out patients, that means Nebraska, Arkansas or Oklahoma.

Doctors said the best way to help your family is to get vaccinated if you’re able, wear a mask, and stay away from large crowds.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services plans to resume its at-home testing ordering system on Thursday. But remember, there’s no way for you to report the results of those at-home tests to local health departments, which means those positives are not included in the case count.

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