Kansas hospital officials fear nursing shortage amid surge

photo by: Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP

Staff members monitor patients in a corridor of Stormont Vail Heath Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 in Topeka, Kan. Conditions inside the nation’s hospitals are deteriorating by the day as the coronavirus rages through the country at an unrelenting pace. Stormont Vail Health in Topeka, Kansas, devoted an entire hospital floor to COVID-19 patients as their numbers swelled, hitting 90 on Wednesday.

Hospital and nursing officials fear that if COVID-19 cases continue unchecked there won’t be enough nurses to staff new hospital beds in the near future in the Kansas City metro area.

“All the things we were worried about could be possible in March, April and May are actually happening right now, and that should be scary for all of us,” said David Wild, vice president of performance improvement at the University of Kansas Health System.

Kansas health officials on Monday added 4,425 cases to the state’s pandemic tally since Friday, bringing the total to 157,446. Data showed that Kansas averaged 2,198 new confirmed and probable coronavirus cases a day for the seven days ending Monday. That is below the record average of 2,766 cases.

The number of COVID-19 related deaths also rose by 31 to 1,560.

It is too soon to see how Thanksgiving gatherings have impacted coronavirus numbers, but medical providers expect to see another rise in hospitalizations in 10 to 14 days once people begin showing symptoms.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported on Monday 87 new hospitalizations, bringing the total of hospitalizations to 5,105 since the start of the pandemic. The state’s COVID-19 dashboard showed 227 coronavirus patients were in ICU units, with 39% of ICU capacity remaining in Kansas.

High community spread means more nurses are liable to contract the disease, forcing them into quarantine. Child care also is an issue, says Kelly Sommers, state director of the Kansas State Nurses Association.

The Kansas Hospital Association’s dashboard on Friday showed 14 of the metro area’s 33 hospitals, or about 42%, reporting they anticipated critical staff shortages in the following week, KCUR reported.

“The obvious answer is to get some temporary people, traveling nurses,” says Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System. “But they’re just not as available as they once were because everybody’s scrambling for the same folks.”

Health providers anticipate the need for more COVID-19 testing following the Thanksgiving holiday, as testing numbers have more than doubled since cases began rising again in the Kansas City area.

Hospitalization numbers were also back up Monday after stabilizing over the holiday weekend, said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease expert at the University of Kansas Health System. The hospital is now treating 102 active cases, of which 46 are in the intensive care unit and 30 are on ventilators, KCUR reported.

“It looks like social gatherings, not so much school, but those other places where people are getting together where they aren’t really necessarily wearing masks as they should be, distancing as they should be, is really a concern,” Hawkinson said.

Hawkinson recommended that anyone who traveled or celebrated in a group for the holiday should act as if they are infected by quarantining and getting tested.


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