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Coronavirus Patients Are Quickly Filling Up Kansas City Area Intensive Care Units, New Data Show

Photo Illustration-Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Kansas City area hospitals and medical staff are feeling the strain of increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Nearly a quarter of intensive care units in the Kansas City metro are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

New coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are continuing to reach new highs in both Kansas and Missouri and increasing at a faster rate than at any point during the pandemic.

Changes in how hospital capacity is reported are showing that the Kansas City area has fewer intensive care units than previous data suggested, and those units have been filling quickly.

An average of 120 people are newly admitted to Kansas City area hospitals each day, according to data from the Mid-America Regional Council. KU Hospital reported its highest number of COVID-19 patients ever on Thursday morning. And more than 1,800 people are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus in Missouri, the highest number so far.

“The numbers that we’ve seen here in the hospital this week, and really in hospitals across the community, and also the numbers of new hospitalizations and cases across our state and Midwest continue to be concerning,” said KU’s Dr. David Wild on Thursday morning. “And we need you all to do your part as well to make sure that we’re not in a situation where we are worried about being overwhelmed.”

Through most of the pandemic, public COVID-19 dashboards have generally shown that hospitals have had ample capacity to handle patients, even as patient counts have increased.

But public data from the Mid-America Regional Council, which have recently been updated to better represent hospital capacity, now show a more concerning situation.

Twenty-three percent of ICUs are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients, compared with just under 9% a month ago. Fewer than 18% of ICUs in the metro area are currently available for use.

Federal data show that nationwide, an average of 31% of ICUs remain available.

Hospitalizations have been increasing, but the change is also due to revisions in how hospitals report the numbers.

MARC spokeswoman Amy Strange said that in October, the federal system used to report data removed pediatric ICUs from its total counts. Children make up only a tiny number of COVID-19 patients who need intensive care.

A month ago, Kansas City had a total of 994 intensive care unit beds, as listed on the MARC dashboard. The dashboard currently lists 534.

The ICU counts reinforce assertions by hospital doctors that area hospitals have been running low on space for patients as hospitalizations have risen.

Fewer standard hospital beds are listed by MARC as well. A total of 6,216 hospital beds were listed for the metro one month ago, according to MARC. The total listed on Wednesday stood at 5,806.

Strange said the numbers can vary somewhat from day to day based on when hospitals report. Bed numbers can also fluctuate due to staffing, and just over a third of area hospitals say they expect staffing shortages in the coming week.

MARC's hospital bed and ICU bed numbers reflect only those that have staff assigned to them, which aligns with federal reporting definitions.

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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