St. Luke's, other local hospitals face capacity issues due to COVID-19

Facilities not accepting ambulances at times
There are currently more than 700,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S.
Posted at 5:46 PM, Oct 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-16 19:14:03-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — St. Luke's Hospital and other Kansas City-area hospitals are reporting a rise in COVID-19 patients, leading to capacity issues.

About 11% of patients, or about 80 people, at St. Luke's Hospital have COVID-19.

This is a number that fluctuates by the hour, said Dr. Marc Larsen, director of operations for St. Luke's COVID-19 response.

"We're seeing a third of our patients coming in with COVID-19 do end up staying in the ICU at some point in time, so that really takes up beds for long period of time where we can't turn around those patients, and that further cuts into capacity," Larsen said.

Earlier in the week, St. Luke's was on diversion for a short amount of time, which Larsen said happens at every hospital. This means they weren't accepting ambulances except for issues such as heart attack and trauma.

As of Friday afternoon, St. Luke's was not turning away ambulances.

Larsen said the hospital goes on diversion one to two percent of the time. It lasts for an hour or two to get beds prepped and open.

"I do want to reassure the public that even though we are bursting at the seams, we will always be there to take care of you," Larsen said.

Compared to last October, St. Luke's ICU capacity is up 20% and the number of times people are waiting in the ER for a bed is up 77%.

On the nights when the ER is overflowing, doctors said they will find a way.

"We'll go downstairs to preoperative unit and take ER patients down there because we need to have a physical space where we can care for these patients," Larsen said.

The hospital sees a high volume of non-COVID patients in the beginning of the week, such as people who come in for surgery and need to stay a few days. Volumes typically level off toward the end of the week.

However, Larsen said, everything compounds when the hospital has increased COVID-19 patients on top of the surgical volume and regular patients.

"When you have these ebbs and flows of patient volumes, that's where the system really seems to struggle," Larsen said.

A COVID-19 ICU patient tends to stay in the hospital for 15 days, compared to five days if they don't go to the ICU.

The afternoon is the peak time of day when patients are being discharged. Larsen said the hospital will get a new round of patients testing positive and checking in during the evening. This is why capacity is a fluid situation.

Larsen said in the incident that all the hospitals in their catchment area are at capacity, then they'd all have to open up and accept ambulances.

"We have to have a way to help our EMS partners," Larsen said. "They can't just drive around the city all day looking for ERs."

Doctors at the University of Kansas Health System stressed in their morning COVID-19 briefing that there will always be a place for patients to go.

"We do work with other ICUs around the city," Dr. Dana Hawkinson said. "We meet every week, every two weeks and make sure we have capacity and coordinate as a team as we need to."

A spokesperson at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission said their uptick in COVID-19 patients is "a little concerning." There are 28 COVID-19 patients at the hospital, compared to 23 earlier in the week.

St. Joseph Medical Center has also experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases in the past week. During that time frame the hospital has maintained between 15 to 20 positive patients, according to a spokesperson. The hospital is not at capacity and is accepting patients.

Truman Medical Center is not at a high volume at this time and is not diverting ambulances. Between the downtown location and Lakewood, its doctors are caring for 26 COVID-19 patients.

HCA Midwest is also reporting an increase in COVID-19 patients as positive cases rise in the area. HCA is comprised of 10 emergency rooms, five trauma centers and nine CareNow urgent care locations.

"We have many measures in place to ensure the safety of our patients and staff, and patients shouldn't delay needed healthcare," a spokesperson for HCA said.

North Kansas City Hospital was on full diversion for less than half an hour late Friday morning, a spokesperson said, but that was due to “some significant trauma cases” in the emergency department.

The spokesperson said about half of the patients in critical care and the ICU at NKCH are COVID-19 patients and the hospital “continues to have capacity and is prepared to provide essential medical treatment."

Larsen told 41 Action News the solution comes down to the suggestions doctors have been giving since the beginning of the pandemic: wear your mask, social distance, and wash your hands.

"I do worry about what's potentially coming down the pipe with the flu season getting ready to start," Larsen said. "We're seeing hospital capacity similar to what we see in peaks of flu season and we are just starting to see influenza."