Some KC-area hospitals forced to turn away ambulances as COVID-19 hospitalizations climb

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As we track coronavirus, more and more patients are filling local hospital beds.

St. Luke’s Health System hit their highest number of hospitalized patients this week with more than 100. The hospital was so full they started turning away most ambulances for a bit.

The process is called diversion. When a hospital is too full, emergency services will use a system to let ambulances know to take patients to another hospital if they can.

When a hospital is diverting patients, St. Luke’s said they will still accept people who are experiencing a serious emergency. People who are having a heart attack, stroke or experiencing severe trauma would still be admitted.

St. Luke’s numbers are down from where they started this week, but experts say they’re steady. Dr. Marc Larsen, the operations manager for St. Luke’s COVID response team, said their number of COVID-19 patients is down to 85 as of Friday.

“We get to the point where the hospital is so full, we don’t have places to place our admissions,” Larsen said. “And so what we end up doing is we have to control our volume one way or another. And that’s usually by trying to encourage EMS providers to take the patient to a different facility.”

Larsen said although the numbers remain steady, more people are coming into the hospital for delayed care.

“We’re seeing people that have deferred care, and therefore they may not have gotten in and gotten their prescriptions refilled,” Larsen said. “And that means that they have had things that potentially would have been treatable or preventable that now their symptoms have gotten worse that they end up having to seek emergency care and possible hospitalization.”

Missouri is among several states seeing a surge in new virus cases over the past few weeks. On Friday, the state reported 2,017 new cases and 17 additional deaths. Missouri has reported 152,571 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 2,459 deaths since the onset of the pandemic.

Dr. Rex Archer with the Kansas City Health Department said this winter we could enter a third wave of the pandemic in Kansas City.

“As we come into the fall, we’re going to be in a bad situation because we anticipate huge increases in COVID,” Archer said. “After Thanksgiving, there’ll be returning students from various hotspots, there are still a large part of Missouri and the Midwest are not under masked orders.”

Archer said wearing your mask, washing your hands and staying home will help keep the numbers low.

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