Surging COVID cases, sick workers force Kansas City hospitals to adjust

Tracking Coronavirus

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The number of people hospitalized with COVID hit a new high at the University of Kansas Health System Monday morning.

It’s the first time during the two years of the pandemic that the hospital has treated 119 patients with active COVID cases.

The story can be told at many hospitals across the country, but it’s not just the number of hospitalizations that is causing the crisis. It’s also the number of hospital employees who are out sick, either quarantining due to COVID, or for other illnesses.

Monday morning, University Health in Kansas City, Missouri, said 225 of its employees were out sick. The sick employees hold a variety of positions across the medical center, according to a hospital spokesperson.

At Children’s Mercy Hospital, 250 employees were home Monday and isolating due to confirmed positive COVID-19 tests. Doctors said staffing adjustments are being made across the hospital in order to ensure the most critical patients receive the care they need. The hospital is also working on other creative staffing solutions to assist with immediate needs.

Smaller hospitals are also struggling. Liberty Hospital is caring for a record high 58 COVID inpatients Monday, but had 24 employees out sick. Another eight employees were sent for COVID testing during the day Monday. While the hospital said it doesn’t require non-clinical staff to fill support roles, it is reviewing the possibility of reopening its labor pool. The pool allows those employees to volunteer for other roles.

Some Kansas hospitals say they have found those solutions by rehiring recently retired nurses and other employees who still have licenses in good standing.

Others, such as AdventHealth, are shifting employees to different departments to help deliver care where needed. The hospital reported a record-number of 111 employees out with COVID Monday. To help the strain, the hospital said it may have a nurse who normally works in the birth center work as a general hospital nurse right now.

At KU Health, workforce issues came in the form of 957 employees, including more than 100 nurses, who were out with COVID, or needed to be tested for the virus Monday. The health system employs a total workforce of about 13,500 people.

“Omicron is bad. It’s putting us in the situation we’re in currently today without the ability to provide care across our country and in areas that really patients need and that’s the most significant thing,” Chris Ruder, Chief Operating Officer at the University of Kansas Health System said.

“It’s not just the number of patients who are in the hospital with with omicron, it’s also we’re in a seasonal time where the flu and other viruses are on the uptick, got some of those hospitalized patients too. And of course their general demand of patients that need care and hospital.”

The health system said it’s already cut surgeries and held back scheduling other procedures to free up as many staff as possible, which may also include changes to visiting policies. Clinics have also been canceled and some appointments have been postponed, according to a morning update held by the health system.

The next step for KU Health is shifting qualified individuals with clinical experience to help with direct patient care. Other employees are then being shifted to fill the new vacancies.

“That may be running a lab, it may be a simple patient transport, those types of things that we can use other individuals to help with. We’re shifting staff to those areas,” Chris Ruder, Chief Operating Officer at University of Kansas Health System, said.

“We’ve got to supplement those individuals at the bedside in every way that we can and I think we’re doing that really, you know, in a very effective way. And our staff have been incredibly flexible to do that,” Ruder said.

Many health experts in the Kansas City region, including those at the University of Kansas Health System, don’t think the current curve will bend until the end of the month, which means there could be several more weeks of increased cases and workforce issues.

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