KC hospitals 'weeks' from being overwhelmed if behavior doesn't change

COVID-19 Front Line
Posted at 8:27 AM, Nov 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-06 19:04:39-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Health officials at several Kansas City-area hospitals say they are reaching capacity and could be overwhelmed in weeks.

Chief medical officers from hospitals across the Kansas City area held a briefing Friday to discuss the strain increased COVID-19 cases are placing on the health system.

Dr. David Wild, vice president of performance improvement at the University of Kansas Health System said that the area hospitals are "weeks away" from being overwhelmed if people do not adhere to the pillars of infection control.

The doctors said their job is not to tell the public officials what measure to take to control the spread of the virus, but simply to keep them updated on what is happening in the hospitals so they can address the situation.

Chief medical officers from across the area took time to calculate how many hospital beds are open in the area to present to elected officials and said the results were disheartening.

"(It's a) much narrower supply than we thought," University of Kansas Health System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steve Stites said.

For example, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 11 sampled area hospitals had 153 non-ICU beds and 32 ICU beds available but said that of those, only 76 of the non-ICU beds and 22 ICU beds could actually be staffed.

Wild emphasized that the situation changes from shift to shift and day to day as staffing changes.

At this time, no area hospital is turning away emergency patients or elective surgeries.

However, the University of Kansas Health System has occasionally had to turn away patients from rural hospitals who are either full or not equipped with intensive care abilities to treat seriously ill patients.

Wild said that hospitals five to six hours away from Kansas City are calling the health system asking them to take patients, and sometimes they have to say no.

“We’re getting calls from states that we never get calls from," he said.

Liberty Hospital has seen several patients from rural areas where infection control practices are not as prominent.

“We certainly don’t want to say no to any of the rural emergency rooms,” Liberty Hospital Chief Medical Officer Raghu Adiga said of the hospital's situation.

He said that turning patients away is only the case if they really do not have the capability to treat them.

“We never refuse anyone who is on their way to the emergency room," Adiga added.

The increased COVID-19 cases are adding an extra load of patients that the hospitals would not normally see, and especially during flu season when they are already close to full.

"It’s not unusual for us to be full this time of year, but now we have 10-15% more patients with one disease," Stites explained.

Any regulation of infection control within the community is up to government officials, but area hospitals already have contingency plans in place.

One thing some are already doing is giving nurses full loads of patients, which they might not normally have had before.

A next step, should hospital beds fill up, could be turning away "elective" surgeries.

Stites said that's not an ideal option, since a lot of times those are patients with cancer, heart disease or needing a hip or knee replacement that are simply putting off care.

“If widespread community transmission continues to go up we will be overwhelmed," he said.

Stites pointed out that hospitals are the biggest COVID-19 hot spots, with patients concentrated in one place, but there is no spread within the hospital because of the infection control measures put in place. The spread of the virus is out in the community, rather.

The group of chief medical officers is working to build a dashboard that will show how many staffed beds are available in the community to keep elected officials and the public informed.

Hospitals represented in the meeting included:

  • Liberty Hospital
  • AdventHealth Shawnee Mission
  • Saint Luke's Health System
  • Truman Medical Centers
  • North Kansas City Hospital
  • University of Kansas Health System