Topeka hospitals feeling strain of COVID resurgence

Published: Jan. 4, 2022 at 8:58 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Topeka’s University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus re-activated its COVID-19 incident command Tuesday, as patient numbers remain high.

A block away, Stormont Vail is seeing calls to its COVID-19 hotline at levels not seen since November 2020. The hospital fielded 805 calls to the hotline Monday.

Both hospitals are feeling the strain of a holiday spike in cases that had KDHE reporting record numbers of new cases last week.

St. Francis had 35 COVID-positive inpatients Tuesday. Of those, 85 percent were unvaccinated.

In addition, 29 St. Francis employees were isolating due to COVID illness or exposure.

In its Tuesday update, St. Francis says staffing remains its biggest concern. They’ve reactivated their labor pool, are offering opportunities for non-clinical staff to assist nurses with non-clinical duties, and groups are meeting several times a day to assess patient management and scheduling.

The increased numbers of staff out coupled with the sustained increase in COVID patients numbers led to the decision to formally inactivate the incident command.

“While our nursing and other patient care leaders have continued to meet daily since the start of the pandemic, the incident command structure increases the frequency and engages additional leaders in our response planning,” the team wrote. “Sub-groups will be working and reporting out several times a day on plans to best manage staffing, patient movement, care management, facility and supply needs, and patient scheduling.”

St. Francis’ Critical Care unit was at 115% capacity Tuesday morning, while the Medical/Surgical unit was at 91%.

Stormont Vail had 56 COVID patients Tuesday. Of those, 94% were unvaccinated, or more than six months past their last dose or booster. Stormont also was caring for 130 COVID patients through its enhanced primary care program, which provided regular check-ins and support for high-risk patients, with the goal of keeping them out of the hospital.

Like St. Francis, Stormont staff also is affected by the virus. Stormont had 92 employees out Tuesday due to either illness or exposure.

“We require a certain level of staffing to safely care for patients. We have a number of initiatives to help streamline admission and discharge processes, but are experiencing difficulty and delays when trying to transfer or discharge patients to more appropriate care facilities – because those facilities are also stretched thin,” Stormont CEO Dr. Robert Kenagy wrote in his Tuesday update. “It is a shift-to-shift struggle to keep appropriate staffing at the bedside caring for patients. We are taking an “all hands on deck” approach to maintain staffing in critical areas to serve our community: the hospital, urgent and emergent care areas, and enhanced primary care.”

Tuesday’s update encouraged staff to take precautions both at work and when in the community. Administrators reminded staff to follow all personal protective equipment policies while at work, and to wear masks in public places outside the workplace.

“The safest place is at work. The other part is what’s outside these walls, in public places. None of us should be at basketball games, bars or restaurants,” said Dr. Clif Jones, Vice President, Sub-Specialty Care and infectious disease physician.

Stormont said it will set up a special booster clinic later in January for its employees who are due for a booster.

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