TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — A spike in coronavirus cases and staffing shortages is forcing some intensive care units in Kansas to shut down. The rise in hospitalizations is also forcing some hospitals in northeast Kansas to turn away transfer patients, as their ICU beds fill up.
Stormont Vail in Topeka is just one of many hospitals in the state trying to navigate these challenges, treating an influx of patients with staff stressed and stretched thin.
“It is probably the worst surge that we’ve seen,” said Dr. Salah Najm, Vice President of Acute Care Services at Stormont Vail. “A lot of it has to do with the volume of patients that we’re seeing. There’s a lot more people that are getting sick with this virus than before. The volume and the number of patients is much, much higher.”
Najm told Kansas Capitol Bureau Tuesday that their ICU is currently at about 95% capacity, a percentage calculated based on the number of ICU beds and workers able to staff them.
Najm said that number is dwindling as more hospital workers are having to quarantine due to exposure, and many are feeling “burnt out” from the high-stress environment.
The increase in patients and decrease in staff are leading to many hospitals in the region having to turn away people, some from more rural areas, traveling miles for care.
“This leads to a stress point in the hospital where we’re seeing a lot of sick patients and not being able to take care of every person that comes into our system,” Dr. Najm said. “So, we’re able to take care of everyone that comes into our emergency departments, everyone that comes to our clinics, and our hospitals. But, a lot of smaller community hospitals, and even bigger hospitals, are trying to transfer patients to other facilities. And, across the state, we’re seeing there’s a big deficiency in being able to take care of these patients, and being able to transfer them to another hospital.”
Many hospitals in Kansas are feeling the pressure. As of Tuesday, state data shows about two-thirds of ICU beds are full. And according to the latest data from the Kansas Hospital Association (KHA), the state’s seen more than 800 confirmed coronavirus hospitalizations within the last week.
Cindy Samuelson, a spokesperson for KHA, said that hospitals in the state are facing a “heightened crisis,” with some even considering major changes to how they handle patients coming in.
“Some hospitals that are saying we’re going to have to consider, and some have, not just not having specific units, but potentially getting to a place where they have to stop selecting sub-surgeries, or things that are non-essential surgeries,” Samuelson said.
While the omicron variant has spread quickly, Samuelson said they’re seeing a mix of variants identified with the cases coming in. The highly contagious delta variant is still prevalent, but some doctors are expecting an even greater increase now that the omicron variant has reached the state.
The spike in cases has also led to an increase in testing, pulling some workers away from already short-staffed hospitals to help. People are flocking to test locations in some southern parts of the state, like in Wichita, lining up to take free rapid tests. CDC numbers show thousands of tests have been performed just within the last week.
Samuelson said the wave of cases could also be tied to low vaccination rates and less protective measures used in some counties. Many Kansas hospital leaders say this is the most “severe surge” they’ve seen, as the challenges they face continue to pile up.
“Our community has to know that the choices they’re making day-to-day is we need to all do our part, so we can keep our hospitals open, so they can be there 24/7, 365 for any kind of need.”