Leaders of Wichita hospital pushing for more restrictive health order

Eyewitness News learned Thursday, Sedgwick County is considering a new health order.
Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 12:39 AM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The leaders of one Wichita hospital imploring county and city leaders to put in place a health order with strict measures.

“I go through all the worse case scenarios, and that’s what we’re planning for, but there will come a point if the growth continues at the current pace that we will not have any further capacity to care for these patients,” said Wesley’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lowell Ebersole.

The six recommendations Wesley presented to the county commission Wednesday and city council Thursday are:

1) Close bars and night clubs

2) Close restaurants for in-person dining, take out only

3) Close venues that hold large gatherings

4) Discontinue winter sports

5) Limit gathering sizes to 10 or fewer people

6) Families gather only as an immediate family in a small group for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years

“I think today we’re handling it okay. If this is the top of the spike, great. I am very concerned about what we’re seeing and very concerned about where we will be by the end of the year, given the trajectory we’re seeing,” said Bill Voloch, the CEO of Wesley.

They’re asking for a COVID-19 circuit breaker fearing next month could see hospitals overloaded.

At the same time, some business owners are dreading what this could mean. Headshots Bar and Grill’s owner said the restaurant industry has faced some of the most drastic impacts during the pandemic, and a partial or complete shutdown would be the final nail in the coffin for some in this industry.

“During shutdowns, we still have rent, utilities and staff to pay for,” said Headshots Bar and Grill owner Ryan Revard. “Our staff is our biggest concern because you can’t replace it. It’s hard to retrain somebody who’s been there for years. So we want to keep them as possible. And having a second shutdown right before Christmas is just devastating for these people that have already been laid off once this year, and then they have to go through the second time. It’s devastating, and we don’t want to see that happen to these people that are some of the best hardworking people that we have.”

Owner of Headshots Bar and Grill, Ryan Revard said they’ve been following the county’s health order will the goal to avoid that outcome.

“You’re gonna see restaurants that are already following the mandate of being a half occupancy and closing early. But you’re also going to see tables socially distance; there’s a lot of room to move around. We’ve taken out to half the tables and chairs in this room to make things easier for people. You’re gonna see employees wearing masks, you’re going to see people sanitizing. You’re going to see sanitizing stations throughout the restaurant.” Revard went on to say, “You’re going to see door people not allowing customers to come in that aren’t going to follow those procedures. So, you’re going to see enforcement coming from restaurants where you’re not seeing enforcement for these mandates from many other industries.”

Yet, one of the biggest issues remains getting people to feel comfortable coming through their doors.

“We’re not seeing traffic regardless of what procedures that we are doing,” said Revard.

For Revard, he said this is where he would like to see some help. When it comes to making decisions, he said he’d prefer an industry-wide approach but something that addressed case numbers where they’re at.

“If for some reason we are designated as a hotspot, tell us what we need to do to make it safe because we are doing everything that we can to make people as safe as possible,” said Revard. “We need them to say that restaurants that are doing these procedures are okay.”

Balancing the needs of business and public health is the difficult task that remains before county leaders.

“Our physicians pleaded with us to take further restrictions. Our hospitals are full, so it’s time to do something different,” said Sedgwick County Commissioner Lacey Cruse.

She added, “I am in support of supporting our hospitals. I am in support of supporting our business as well. It’s a delicate balance that we have to, as an entire community, understand; it’s our responsibility. I’m in support of encouraging the community to do the right thing to fight for our healthcare system as well as our small business owners.”

Sedgwick County Commissioner David Dennis said, “What we heard from the doctors is that the hospitals are overloaded right now and that they need some kind of relief. Their staff is stressed; every hospital bed is full, so we need to take some kind of action to help with that situation.”

Thursday, Eyewitness News learned from the Sedgwick County manager a new health order is in the works.

“Dr. Minns and the commissioners need to talk about it a little bit to make sure that we can get something that works for our community. There are some recommendations in there (from the hospital) that I think probably will be successful,” said Dennis.

Dennis said talking with the hospitals, the number of people hospitalized has doubled every two to three weeks. Even though current hospitalizations of up to 200 have facilities full, what’s concerning is the hospitals could be 300 to 400 patients in the near future.

“COVID is one piece to the healthcare puzzle. We still have trauma, cancer that people are getting treated for.” Cruse said, “All of those other health emergencies are still happening. And so, when I speak to physicians at the hospital, and I hear the angst in their voice, and my heart breaks for the work that they’re doing, and how stressed out they are. This is really taking a human toll, right? I mean, death is around us. It’s important we understand that those caring for people in our health care system could potentially be caring for you, and don’t you want them at their best.”

But on the business said of thing, Commissioners Cruse and Dennis said what’s need it is more from the federal government as their pot of CARES Act fund is running dry and will expire later next month. It also requires community support.

“The biggest problem we have is that the last help that we got from the federal government is all pretty well run out. Unless we can get some additional support from the federal government, I don’t see that there’s a whole lot extra that we’ve got available to us because our CARES funding expires on December 30th,” said Dennis.

“Actually, talked with Lindsay (Poe Rousseau, the Sedgwick County Chief Financial Officer) today about what we can do. We have about $1.5 million left in our small business grant fund, would there be a way to if Dr. Minns, if he strongly recommends further restrictions, a way to help those businesses should they be shuttered? Now we don’t want that, and I don’t want that at all. But we have to understand that if people aren’t willing to fight for the physicians and our health care community right now, further actions are going to have to be taken, and we don’t want it to get to that point. So, we have to find creative ways with the CARES money that is still remaining to help those businesses should it come to that point,” said Cruse.

She added, “When the shutdown first happened, we had PPP loans for employers. I spoke with Nortons Brewing Company today, and, unfortunately, even if the county could help them with our CARES funds, it just won’t be enough. So, we have to realize that COVID is here, and it’s horrible, but it’s going to go away. Right. COVID is not here forever, so what are we willing to fight for to save, so that when COVID is gone, we can get back to those places like Nortons Brewing Company. We want to make sure they’re still around. What can we do now to help those places survive.”

Cruse and Dennis said what they need for people to do is masking, social distancing and handwashing, like has been the urging for months. They add to that, people need to take a hard look at Thanksgiving this year, with traditions like everyone gathering in-person for a large celebration needing to be taken off the table. Instead, celebrate in small groups with just immediate family.

Revard said what needed in the business community is for people to show their support for small businesses.

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