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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A new study shows Kansas and Missouri could be in trouble and run out of hospital beds to treat COVID-19 patients if what we are doing to try and slow the spread does not work.

The future of the COVID-19 crisis is in all of our hands. If people do not stay at home and take social distancing seriously, it could be even more deadly and get there quickly.

A study by the Harvard Global Health Institute paints a daunting picture of what could happen in Kansas and Missouri if COVID-19 spreads as predicted.

The study projects at least 287,000 people in Kansas and Missouri could be hospitalized and there are not enough hospital beds to handle that many patients.

The study shows a set of maps with hospitals’ current ability to handle patients. If just 20 percent of the population gets COVID-19 within six months, nearly every hospital in both states would be beyond capacity to treat the sickest patients.

Kansas City would only have half the beds to care for its sickest patients and smaller cities and rural hospitals would be in even worse shape.

“The challenges of rural hospitals is in shortages of staff and some of their financial independence. Those have been long-standing issues. Technology is also an issue,” said former Kansas Governor Dr. Jeff Colyer.

Colyer is the chair of the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services. He says there are about 82 critical access hospitals in the state of Kansas, 20 percent of which have financial issues and have difficulty making payroll. These fragile hospitals could buckle during the COVID-19 crisis.

“These rural hospitals, these are the places where the next wave of the pandemic is after it hits the cities,” Colyer said.”If they can’t refer on to another hospital where there are significant shortages of equipment, you can see a real death toll, a real problem.”

Besides a lack of money, personnel and supplies, rural communities have an aging population. In a third of the counties in Kansas, more than 30 percent of the population is over 65 and have a higher incidence of diabetes, cardiac issues and other high risk problems.

“Those are people that are working hard every day and we need to make sure that they have the access to care that they might not have, that you might see here in the city, but it’s not available there,” Colyer said.

Hospitals across both states are making provisions in case the worst happens. In anticipation of a shortage of hospital beds we contacted local hospitals to see what they are doing to prepare.

St. Luke’s is adding 64 beds.

Olathe Medical Center is preparing its recently vacated 5th floor to accommodate 43 beds.

Truman Medical Center will use its Gastrointestinal Center and Outpatient Surgery Center to accommodate more patients.

HCA is also planning to add beds to certain area of its hospitals but no specific plan was provided.

Colyer says urban and rural hospitals are working together to plan for the worst. Depending upon the situation, rural and urban hospitals could patient swap. Moving less ill patients. In urban areas to rural hospitals and critically ill patients transported to larger hospitals better equipped to treat them.

Of course, the worst case scenario can be avoided if we stop the spread by being diligent in staying home and social distancing.