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Variety of factors lead to emergency departments' 'unprecedented' demand, KC doctor says

Hospitals at 55% of COVID-19 peak from December
Steve Hoeger MARC.png
Posted at 4:18 PM, Aug 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-02 20:07:06-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the Kansas City metro have not yet reached the area’s December peak, but hospitals still are overwhelmed, according to one health care official.

“We’re well below our peak numbers,” said Steve Hoeger, co-chair of the Mid-America Regional Center Healthcare Committee, noting COVID-19 inpatients are at 55% of the winter peak. “The difference is hospitals are much busier than what we saw at that time. So the fact that we have many more patients in beds, and now we have an increased demand for bed capacity, and these are sicker people – We have sicker patients already, and then our COVID patients that we're seeing are sicker.”

When hospitals are “busier than normal,” Hoeger said, they typically communicate “high call volumes” so patients know before they arrive for treatment that there could be a wait, or they can choose to be treated elsewhere.

“When we have half of our hospitals indicating high volume, then that message is no longer really valuable because everyone's in the same boat,” he said. “So, we now close that as an option.”

It’s an option that first was shut down about a month ago and, more recently, “every week day for the last four weeks,” Hoeger said.

“This is unprecedented that we’re seeing emergency departments remaining very, very busy,” Hoeger said.

He urged patients to use urgent care or family doctors unless they are having a “true” emergency in order to lessen to the ER caseload. Some of the influx, Hoeger said, is related to chronic health care needs not being met earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People were staying at home. They weren't coming out to doctors offices, and that really didn't start changing for us until people were able to start getting vaccines back in January," Hoeger said. "And since that time, our volumes have been going up and up.”

In comparison, Springfield hospitals are operating at 115% of their peak volume, according to Hoeger.

“Their hospitals are beyond capacity,” he said. “And what we're trying to prevent is getting to a similar situation.”

The “No. 1 message” Hoeger said is that the majority of hospitalized COVID-19 cases are unvaccinated.

“If you have high comorbidities, if you're more prone to being sick as a result of COVID, go and get the vaccine,” he said. “If you're around somebody with those same issues, get the vaccine. We encourage you to wear a mask. Stay socially distanced, good hand hygiene, the things we've been saying for the last year and a half. Those are still the same things that are going to help slow down and keep our hospitals from being completely overwhelmed.”