Kansas hospitals rejecting transfer patients as COVID-19 cases surge

Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 5:14 PM CDT
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(KWCH) - Kansas hospitals are turning away many transfer patients as coronavirus cases surge across the country.

The University of Kansas Health System is full and only taking a fraction of the patients it normally would from other states.

Health officials report similar situations from other hospitals across the state.

“There was a patient in Salina, Kansas that we couldn’t find a bed for in Kansas,” said Dr. Steven W. Stites, in the Pulmonary and Critical Care Division of Internal Medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center. " That patient ended up in, I think Oshkosh, Wisconsin. So, this is bad. It’s like standing in the Flint Hills and watching one of those fires, ground fires, start to burn, the wind come up, the fires coming at you and you can’t get away from it. That’s where we are and we need everyone’s help.”

Dr. Dana Hawkinson, our director of infection prevention and control, shared our COVID numbers during today's Morning Medical Update. Join us live each weekday at 8 am for the latest numbers.

Posted by The University of Kansas Health System on Monday, August 16, 2021

The hospital capacity comes amid staffing shortages and as COVID-19 cases grow.

According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, there were 2,456 new cases of COVID-19, 62 new hospitalizations and nine new deaths over the weekend. The percentage of tests coming back positive did drop slightly from last Friday, but it remains above 10% at 10.3%.

In Sedgwick County, 147 are currently hospitalized with the virus, up 14 from last week. The number of patients in the ICU is also up from last week to 56.

Doctors stress that more people need to get vaccinated and mask up to ease the burden on the health care system. Sedgwick County has expanded COVID-19 testing hours and is now offering a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to those who are immunocompromised.

In Winfield, William Newton Hospital CEO Ben Quinton offered perspective from a rural hospital, explaining the situation seen at his facility.

“We are doing okay, but when you look at the other ones that are struggling with their regular patient load on top of their COVID patient load, that makes things extremely difficult,” he said.

One of the issues Quinton’s staff has been dealing with firsthand is the difficulty in transferring patients who may need care to surrounding hospitals.

“We are not at capacity, but many hospitals around us are at capacity,” he said. “Most of what we are seeing is because of staffing, not because places don’t have beds available.”

The latest example has come within the past few weeks. Usually, hospital transfers would be easier, but Quinton said COVID-19 has pressed the system. Hospitals in Wichita are seeing the opposite side of the issue with the inability to take in patients as needed.

“Wesley blocked 41 beds overnight due to our staffing shortage. We have physical beds but I think as it was said earlier, we don’t have the nurses to staff those right now,” said Wesley Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lowell Ebersole.

Last week, in a Zoom forum with other area doctors, Dr. Ebersole explained the issue with not being able to take patients in. A spokesperson with Wesley Medical Center said as of Monday afternoon, the hospital is on diversion but that is subject to change.

Ascension Via Christi Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Sam Antonios said his hospital has had similar issues.

In a statement, he said they are seeing and discharging patients every day but added, “given the high volumes of patients, our ability to accept patient transfers is spotty as we have been on diversion more than is usual for this time of year.”

Quinton insists that his staff and other rural hospitals can and will give care to those who come through their doors right now and will only use transfers if a patient were to need a higher level of care. How long that is the case remains to be seen.

“We have capability and the capacity to take care of patients because we have not seen a surge yet in rural hospitals and in our rural clinics, but we do anticipate that surge to happen,” he said.

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