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Kansas Hospitals Are Declining 100 Rural Coronavirus Patients A Month As Capacity Continues To Swell

120220_cm_PPECovid
Jeff Roberson/AP
/
AP
Dr. Shane Wilson puts on personal protective equipment before performing rounds in a portion of Scotland County Hospital in Memphis, Missouri. Rural hospitals across Kansas and Missouri are struggling to keep up with the influx of COVID-19 patients.

Most of the patients who are turned away are from rural areas with no mask mandates, said Dr. Heather Harris, Hays Medical Center's medical director.

Kansas hospitals are turning away more than 100 transfer patients a month as smaller, local hospitals continue filling up at an alarming rate.

In May, at the beginning of the pandemic, the University of Kansas Health System denied 40 transfers and in October it was up to 140, said Jill Chadwick, a KU spokeswoman.

"November was expected to trend higher," she said, adding that those numbers are not yet available.

At the KU daily briefing Wednesday, Hays Medical Center reported currently treating 34 COVID-19 patients, which is more than third of the 85 to 90 in-patients the hospital usually averages.

Dr. Heather Harris, Hays Medical Center's medical director, said that nearly all of their COVID-19 in-patients are from rural counties without mask mandates.

“It's definitely an intense situation for the hospital and the nurses and the physicians working there. I think that some of the rural areas felt like maybe they were protected due to their geography from the virus and clearly that's not the case,” Harris said.

Also Wednesday, Missouri reported that 75 people died of the coronavirus in the last seven days, an uptick from the previous day. In all, 4, 047 Missouri residents have died of COVID-19, according to the state's dashboard. In Kansas, there have been a total 1,560 deaths, according to a state website.

(The Kansas News Service tracks the state numbers here.)

The rise in hospitalizations has put a strain on hospital staff, especially as many workers are at home quarantining. The hospital had more than 20 employees out last week, a number Harris said is high considering the hospital already doesn’t have much extra staff.

The hospital had to close its doors to transfer patients from rural counties while it waits to get its capacity back, Harris said. The medical center had to decline a record-breaking 103 transfer patients last month.

“Patients are sick, they're here for a long time. The average length of stay is 10 days for these COVID patients, sometimes longer. In the hospital world, that's a long time,” said Harris.

The University of Kansas Health System is also reaching a strain in its capacity with 100 patients who have active COVID-19 cases, of which 48 are in the intensive care unit and 29 are on ventilators. There have been five deaths since Nov. 30.

In an effort to free up beds for regular surgeries and more COVID-19 patients, the KU system is moving patients from its main campus in Kansas City to its Indian Hill campus. The main campus will be reserved for patients that need more complex care.

Dr. Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease expert at the University of Kansas Health System, said he hoped this move would allow people to get care that they haven’t been able to receive because of the pandemic.

“There is no doubt that people with other healthcare conditions, some of them chronic, are having to either travel farther or wait longer for care. There's no doubt that there is an impact on patients across the community with diseases other than COVID,” said Hawkinson.

KU health experts said healthcare workers are facing their own set of challenges as they try to stay motivated while case numbers and hospitalizations continue to rise.

One of the healthcare workers’ challenges is trying to make a human connection while wearing personal protective equipment, said Kevin Myers, Vice President of Hays Medical Center.

“I want them to see my face. I want them to see me smile. It's important that you're able to read my lips. It's important to see my facial expressions. It's a proud thing to hear that staff really know how important it is to make that connection with patients and families,” said Myers.

The hospital is now looking for creative solutions by looking at alternative kinds of face masks and shields to allow for more interaction between staff and patients, said Myers.

Harris said she’s trying to keep healthcare workers motivated by looking forward to a vaccine for the virus that could be out before the end of the year. KU health experts have said it will first go to those at highest risk, including first responders and healthcare workers, before being provided to the general public.

“I feel like we're getting closer to a finish line, not the finish line, but a finish line. And if we can just keep lowering the curve for people to not get critically ill, I think the spring will look better," Harris said. "I keep telling everyone you've gone this far to stay healthy, just give everybody a few more months."

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