‘We are in a crisis’: KC area hospitals short-staffed while COVID-19 cases at all-time high

Tracking Coronavirus

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — COVID-19 cases are at an all-time high in the Kansas City metro area. Doctors are seeing the highest peak of COVID-19 patients in hospitals since the pandemic started.

To address the issues, 18 chief medical officers and infectious diseases doctors joined the University of Kansas Health System’s Facebook live.

Doctors from Salina to Wichita and here in Kansas City said the majority of people dying due to COVID in hospitals are unvaccinated – and the recent death count is up.

“We did, as everyone else, see a lot of deaths at the end of the year,” Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher, with LMH Health, said. “It was probably about 1/10 of our total for the entire pandemic last month.”

The University of Kansas Hospital has 90 active COVID-19 patients Wednesday, and according to Dr. Steven Stites, only six are vaccinated.

Hospitals and emergency departments across the state are overwhelmed with patients; the patients are sicker and there are fewer staff to take care of them.

Overnight, the University of Kansas Health System had about 100 staff members call out sick. That brings them to 740 employees who can’t work because of sickness, which is almost 5% of their workforce.

“How does it compare? It’s a lot worse right now,” Chief medical officer at HCA Midwest Health Dr. Kim McGow said.

People are dying at a five times higher rate in emergency rooms because they can’t get transferred to hospitals to get the right care, according to Dr. Richard Watson.

“This is because the system is backed up at every place and that beds and staffed beds are at a critical level,” Watson said.

Watson co-founded an app, Motient, that KDHE uses to connect rural hospitals when trying to transfer patients.

He said the most disturbing graph shows the number of patients dying in the emergency room, while waiting to be transferred.

“Those patients are there upwards of 20 hours-plus in the emergency room and then passing while waiting for transfer to another facility,” Watson said.

More patients than ever are moving within the state of Kansas and the Kansas City area.

Right now, the 30-day rolling average is 1,150 people, the highest peak in the last year. Watson said 88% of those patients moving are needing help finding a destination.

The hospital in Lawrence recently was forced to transfer a patient outside the region to Oklahoma.

“Transfers are down by about 80% because, simply, we don’t have beds,” Stites with the University of Kansas Health System said.

He said it impacts their ability to care for patients across the board, including people who have heart attacks and strokes.

Hospitals across the metro have already started to cancel and defer surgeries because they don’t have the staff and beds.

“An emergency declaration in both states would be extremely helpful,” Megow said. “It allows hospitals to house more than their licensed number of patients and provides a pathway for the National Guard to help.”

As the number of COVID patients in hospitals and deaths continue to rise, doctors’ messages to stay safe remain the same: Wear masks, social distance and if you’re able — get vaccinated.

“We are in a crisis. It’s shocking that people want to declare victory when we are at this point,” Stites said. “The enemy is COVID-19, not each other.”

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