KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On Wednesday, hospital officials from across Kansas and Missouri hosted a community video call to address the current COVID-19 situation, which they are calling “critical.”
Doctors are even discussing having to pick and choose which patients will get treatment.
“How bad can it get? It can get bad enough that we may have to institute what's referred to as crisis standards of care and for those of you listening who may not be familiar with that terminology, it is basically what the military does during wartime, which is deciding who gets care and who does not, who gets a chance at living and who is left to die and that is really dire,” Dr. Kim Megow, chief medical officer at HCA Midwest, said during the call.
During the call, each medical system detailed staff shortages due to COVID-19 exposure and the inability to complete routine care because of those shortages and full ICU beds.
“We had 640 staff members out yesterday,” Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer of the University of Kansas Health System, said. “That's approaching 5% of our workforce, and if you have 5% of your workforce, there's problems for you.”
Each hospital system representative began the community call by giving an update on how many patients they are treating and how many staff are out with exposure.
A notable trend is that in each case, almost all of the most critical COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. Very few non-critical patients are unvaccinated, showing a correlation between the vaccine and critical illness, according to doctors.
“We’re about 90% unvaccinated in our ICUs, it's nearly 100% unvaccinated on our ventilator patients. It’s a continuing story of a vaccinated population and an unvaccinated population and the difference that we have,” Stites said.
Because beds are filled with critically ill patients and there aren’t enough employees to fully staff the available beds, many hospitals are having to transport patients across state or out of state to get the care they need.
That includes children at Children’s Mercy Hospital.
“We don't have multiple hospitals in our area. When we transfer out, we are transferring out. I mean, KU certainly helps. But then we're outside of the region. We are in Omaha, we are in Arkansas, St. Louis, Denver, we are out far,” Dr. Jennifer Watts with pediatric emergency medicine at Children’s Mercy said. "When we start talking about those hospitals are also full. We now no longer have areas for the sickest of the sick kids either.”
She said it’s not just COVID-19 patients that they’re having a hard time getting care for.
“And that includes your normal kids that get into car accidents. That includes your children that have sledding accidents when it snows again tonight. That includes all of our typical childhood injuries that are purely accidental that occurred that happened to normal healthy kids,” Watts said. “And we are scared of where this is going to take us over the next few weeks for sure."
Doctors are frustrated that things have gotten to that point. One doctor was nearly in tears as she pleaded with the community.
“Every single person on this call has dedicated their lives to the service of others to our patients to the community. And we are sitting here staring at a situation where I can't provide the same level of care as I would have normally, I walk the units and look at our nurses' faces, they are burned out,” Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher of Lawrence Memorial Hospital said.
Despite offering overtime, Schrimsher said her staff aren't willing to take it because of the toll the pandemic is taking on their mental health.
“I… I… I don't know what we're going to do. I don't know what to do without, without help from the state, you know, in the form of emergency declaration so that we can liberalize people. We want to open more testing. We can't get the staff to do it. It's just it's really frustrating when all you want to do is the best for your community. And you just don't have the resources to do it,” Schrimsher said.
When asked what the community can do to prevent things from escalating further, all doctors agreed on two main things: wear a mask and get vaccinated.
As many school districts move away from mask requirements and most cities have dropped any mandate, doctors are calling for that to change
“It's a perfectly terrible idea, because, what it's going to do and what it's already doing across the United States. You see it happening in the northeast, in schools canceled that there's not enough teachers to work.” Stites said. “I mean, if you want to undo the good work that you're trying to do, don't wear a mask. Because kids are all going to get sick; you're going to get sick, your staff are getting sick and the schools are going to close.”
Stites is worried it won’t stop there, either.
“And the same thing is going to happen with essential workers in the grocery store, police, fire department. It will all continue to happen because we refuse to take a simple act and put on a mask,” he said.