Rise in COVID-19 cases causing long waits in Kansas City area emergency rooms

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Local emergency rooms are backed-up with patients as ambulances struggle to find hospitals to take in people struggling with COVID-19 and other severe health issues.

On Wednesday afternoon, Johnson County EMS called for a region-wide meeting to figure out what to do as the challenge worsens.

The situation also means that waiting times for patients have also increased, to the point that some patients have to wait with their ambulances until a bed opens up.

One big concern is what is called ‘wall time,’ which is the time that EMS crews have to sit on the wall with their patient while hospital staff finds a bed. Those times have been between a half hour and forty-five minutes.

Other hospitals avoid the issue by telling ambulance crews that they are full. Johnson County EMS is asking metro hospitals to stop designating themselves as “high volume” to reduce the issue of diverting ambulances away.

It is considered a regional conundrum with local emergency departments reaching capacity every day. Dr. Ryan Jacobsen, medical director for Johnson County EMS, said Tuesday night there were six stroke centers diverting ambulances as well as two trauma centers.

“So that shuttles the timed critical diagnosis to the open centers. And that cascade effect of multiple closed and then all the strokes go to one center – and then they close. And it’s just kind of a waterfall effect. Incredibly challenging,” Jacobsen said.

The result for EMS workers is the following situation when they have a patient.

“And then you call the hospital on the radio. And they say ‘We don’t have room for him.’ And then they call another hospital. ‘We don’t have room for him.’ Call another hospital. ‘We don’t have room for him.’ It’s sometimes three or four calls. And we’ve had instances just this week where ambulances are being diverted multiple times trying to find a home for the patient in the region,” Jacobsen said.

And getting into a hospital does not solve the problem. KU Hospital had 55 beds in it’s ER on Wednesday. Those bed were nearly full by 8 a.m., Dr. Chad Cannon, Emergency Medicine Specialist in the University of Kansas Healthcare System said.

“Typically we would only have only half our beds full and as the day goes along, the patients come in, the beds fill up. But we’re starting off with our beds already full. So as the day goes along now during the pandemic, they start piling up into our hallways, into our waiting rooms,” Cannon said.

Those waiting times can last six to ten hours depending on the priority (triage level) of the patient’s health issue. With lesser health issues, like a broken bone, the wait can be even longer.

“Some patients, when there’s no bed available at all are waiting over a day in the hospital,” Cannon said.

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