Kansas City hospitals seeing shortage of ventilators

Treatments, morgue space also scarce
Medical college association releases road map to reset approach to pandemic
Posted at 10:49 AM, Jan 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-12 11:49:08-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In what feels like a flashback to mid-2020, Kansas City area hospitals are seeing a shortage in ventilators.

With the surge in COVID-19 cases causing an influx of critically-ill patients, the equipment is once again being stretched thin.

During Wednesday morning's medical call hosted by the University of Kansas Health System, several chief medical officers from around the metro shared updates on patient numbers and brought up the shortage.

The University of Kansas Health System and AdventHealth Shawnee Mission are two hospitals seeing ventilator issues.

"Our ventilator situation has been a bit tenuous this week. I got an emergency call Saturday night from our chief nursing officer that we were down to one ventilator, came in and assess the situation we were able to procure seven more ventilators and those started coming in yesterday as of yesterday," Dr. Lisa Hays, chief medical officer at AdventHealth, said. "I believe we had two ventilators before those extra ventilators came in."

Hays said the issue with ventilators is that not all of them can support a critically ill COVID-19 patient.

"The issue with the ventilators is we have many ventilators in-house but not all of them are able to handle the high oxygen requirements that our Covid patients require and the high pressures that they require to maintain oxygenation and ventilation," she explained.

Dr. Kim Megow, chief medical officer at HCA Midwest, said her health system has 280 COVID-19 patients and 51 are in the ICU. Half of those are on ventilators.

"24% of our inpatients right now are Covid. We have had to move some ventilators around, but we have not run out of ventilators at this point. But we have had to, thankfully because the number of facilities that HCA has in the Kansas City metro area, we've been able to share some supplies like ventilators," she said.

There are resources online that track the number of available ventilators across the metro, but doctors said that's not an effective tool to track the severity of the pandemic.

"I wanted to mention that some people have been tracking the number of ventilators and use in the pandemic has the only indicator of the severity of the disease. And I do want to say that that's not a great metric to follow," Dr. Sam Antonios, chief clinical officer at Ascension Via Christi Health in Wichita, explained. "The use of ventilators has declined because we actively put people on high flow oxygen and other tools, different machines that don't necessarily intubate patients."

Not all ventilators perform the same tasks.

"And then could we use a ventilator that we're not very used to that has very little capabilities for a surgery supporter or a person that's sick with something other than their lungs and it just adds to stress on the system and complexity. And not all of them are created equally and not all of them are able to support the very, very sick people with bad lung injury," University of Kansas Health System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steven Stites said.

One shortage HCA is having a hard time with despite the size of the health system is beds for patients.

"We are currently holding 46 patients in our emergency rooms this morning. We only have two ICU beds across the entire metro available this morning," Megow said. "We are closed to all transfers. And we monitor that probably hourly and come back off of transfer as soon as we have availability and capacity to take care of patients that have requested moved into the metro."

It's similar at the University of Kansas Health System.

"You know, I think here's our story that normally we try to accept 65 to 70% of patients coming to our hospital," Stites said. "Today we're running about 17 or 18%. And that's not a number we like. We need to get those folks here because those are patients in smaller hospitals or places where they need our help... We want to take those people but we don't have a place to put them and we don't have a staff that takes care of them."

Another shortage to take note of — morgue space.

"You know, the other issue that the new thing for me is morgue capacity, had to learn how many bodies or more could hold yesterday and determine whether that was going to be adequate for what our needs are," Hays said.

Most hospital systems also mentioned shortages of monoclonal antibodies. One approved treatment is effective on the omicron variant, and it's become scarce.

"In terms of monoclonal again, it's the same story I think we are down to just two doses that we are infusing today and after that, we don't have any you know, weeks before we used to do at least eight a day, at least 40 a week. And we're gonna have to just say, sorry, we have none," Dr. Raghu Adiga of Liberty Hospital said.

While none of the health systems have said they are at their breaking point yet, they are getting close.

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