Area hospitals facing increase in critical care patients, staffing shortages

Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher, infectious disease physician at Lawrence Memorial, speaks during...
Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher, infectious disease physician at Lawrence Memorial, speaks during Wednesday call with Kansas doctors.(KWCH)
Published: Jan. 5, 2022 at 10:06 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The doctors and medical staff called upon by Dr. Steven Stites during a virtual meeting on Wednesday told similar stories about what’s going on in their facilities.

Hospitalizations, especially COVID-19 patients in intensive care and on ventilators, are up. Way up. Staffing is down. Way down.

Personnel from hospitals across the state and into Missouri joined the CMO News and Community Conference, hosted by Stites, the CMO of the University of Kansas Medical Center, and there was commonality in their messages.

Dr. Lisa Hays, CMO for AdventHealth in Shawnee Mission: “Our numbers are going up.”

Dr. Jennifer Watts, pediatric physician for Children’s Mercy in Kansas City, Mo.” “We’re definitely struggling with staff as well as we see an increase in pediatric hospitalizations.”

Dr. James Alexander, CMO for Centura St. Catherine in Garden City: “Our ICU has been full the last four months.”

And on and on. Every hospital represented, in every part of the state, facing the same problems. Big problems.

In Wichita, represented by Ascension Hospitals Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Sam Antonios, hospitalizations are reaching pandemic highs. Antonios said that Via Christi has seen its inpatient census triple since November. He mentioned that 86 percent of COVID patients there are unvaccinated, another common theme of Wednesday’s meeting. Stites said hospitals are seeing about 70 percent of COVID patients unvaccinated.

“Even if the vaccine was only 50-60 percent, our hospital numbers would be so much lower than they are now,” Stites said. He added that nearly 100 percent of ICU patients are unvaccinated and all ventilator patients haven’t received the vaccine.

Those patients are flooding emergency rooms and ICUs, and many hospitals don’t have enough staff to care for them. Watts reported 327 staff out as of Tuesday afternoon. Dr. Kimberly Megow, CMO of HCA Midwest Health in Kansas City, said there were at least 190 callouts from staff on Wednesday. Dr. Jim Stewart of North Kansas City Hospital reported 123 employees off one day recently.

Megow said the increase in patients and the shortage of healthcare workers could result in hospitals deciding which patients receive care and which don’t.

“That is really dire, but I think it’s important to say that,” she said. “That is how bad it could get if we are completely overwhelmed -- and we’re at that point already -- and we suddenly have an onslaught of additional patients. There have to be tough decisions to be made, and no one on this call wants to make those decisions.”

Some in the discussion were calling for Kansas to declare a state of emergency, which would enable hospitals to house more than capacity and allow flexibility with roles of staff members. That would allow non-traditional staff members to provide care. One doctor said, “Our hands are tied without an emergency declaration.”

The staffing shortages come from staff missing work due to illness, some leaving for higher-paying jobs elsewhere, and those leaving the profession entirely.

“Every single person on this call has dedicated their lives to the service of others. To our patients, to the community,” Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher, an infectious disease doctor at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, said. “And we are sitting here staring at a situation where I can’t provide the same level of care that I would have normally. I walk the units and look at our nurses’ faces -- they are burnt out.

“Our staff have reached their limit. We can’t get more staff, because we can’t compete with agency pay. We’ve offered insane amounts of overtime. People don’t take it, because they physically or mentally can’t do it anymore.”

Hospitals are refusing transfers and delaying surgeries - surgeries that Stites said are elective in name only and can require extended hospitalization. There simply isn’t room for many patients who need emergency care.

The way out, the doctors say, is vaccinations. When more people get vaccinated, fewer will need hospitalization -- especially in intensive care.

“Our community can help with this pandemic, but we have to have help from our community,” said Kevin Dishman, CMO of StormontVail Health in Topeka. “Those who wave the flag of ‘personal choice’ are extending this pandemic.”

“It’s shocking to me,” Stites said, “that people want to declare victory when we’re at this point.”

Copyright 2022 KWCH. All rights reserved.