The number of COVID patients at The University of Kansas Health System continues to be ominous. 45 with the active virus are being treated, the same as yesterday. Only seven of those active cases are patients who are fully vaccinated. 13 COVID patients are in the ICU, up from 12 yesterday. Nine are on ventilators, up from seven yesterday.
As COVID cases continue to rise and hospitals prepare for a surge, 11 area chief medical officers and leaders have been convened to discuss how they are preparing. In addition to Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer of The University of Kansas Health System, those doctors include:
- Dr. Lisa Hays, Chief Medical Officer at Advent Health, Shawnee Mission
- Dr. Jennifer Watts, Chief Emergency Management Medical Officer at Children's Mercy.
- Dr. Kim Megow, Chief Medical Officer at HCA Midwest Health.
- Dr. Raghu Adiga, Chief Medical Officer at Liberty Hospital
- Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher, infectious diseases Physician at LMH and deputy public health officer for Douglas County.
- Dr. James Stewart, Chief Medical Officer at North Kansas City Hospital.
- Dr. Mark Steele, Executive Chief Clinical Officer at University Health.
- Dr. Elizabeth Long, Chief Medical Officer with Olathe Health
- Dr. Jackie Hyland, Chief Medical Officer with The University of Kansas Health System - St. Francis Campus
- Dr. Ahmad Batrash, Chief of Staff at the Kansas City VA hospital
All these doctors, including and starting with Dr. Dana Hawkinson, Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control and Infectious Diseases physician at The University of Kansas Health System are reporting surging COVID numbers at their hospitals with overwhelming numbers of patients who are unvaccinated. They are all reporting potential capacity issues, especially with staff who are overworked.
“We are struggling with our staff – they are tired, they are overworked, and we continue to ask them to do more and more with these volumes,” said Dr. Long. She said this is different this year versus last year because the staff has been fighting this fight for so long and are really worn out. “We all want to be done with this. But we’re not and we’re in a dire situation.”
Unanimously, the doctors identified unvaccinated patients as the clear majority of COVID patients that are causing challenges.
“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Dr. Stites said. “What we know is that these surge in patients are going to be numbers from the unvaccinated.”
Many hospitals are also preparing to cancel surgeries – or are already cancelling surgeries – due to the volume of unvaccinated COVID patients.
“We are taking care of ALL the patients,” said Dr. Long, summarizing the situation with all metro area hospitals. “This is a stress on the whole health care system – impacting other patients who need care that is not even COVID related.”
Dr. Batrash agrees. He said the overwhelming of COVID patients can cause delays in cancer diagnoses and other important diagnostic procedures to save beds for COVID patients.
Dr. Megow supported this, saying that they still need to adequately care for gunshots, car accident victims and other everyday health issues that keep happening.
“Cancelling surgeries is incredibly difficult,” Dr. Hyland added. “Patients have arranged for family support, family traveling in, taking off work – it’s frustrating when surgeries are cancelled because there aren’t available beds due to COVID.”
Most hospitals also are tracking patients who have initial infections and not re-infections. Also, they are still seeing Delta variants and not a surge in Omicron variants yet, which is very concerning. We are also in flu season as well, which is providing the perfect storm of patients.
“Last year, we didn’t have flu patients added to COVID patients,” said Dr. Stewart. “And if we have flu patients AND COVID patients this year, I think the peak is really going to be worse than it was a year ago.”
Dr. Schrimsher said that the rise in flu cases is a concern. She saw the first combo flu/COVID case this week. “Get your flu vaccine,” she said. “Masks do help as well. Masks helped reduce flu cases last year.”
There is a lot of misinformation on social media and from other sources. Dr. Hays reminded people who count on doctors for other forms of healthcare to listen to those doctors about COVID. “Trust us,” she said. “We are experts in preventing diseases. Trust us with COVID.”
For many people who refuse to get vaccinated and think that they can simply get monoclonal treatment if they get COVID, they are putting themselves at serious risk
“Monoclonal treatments are not a safety net,” said Dr. Schrimsher. “There isn’t any.” Kansas received 4 percent of the nation’s supply, but hospitals have very little or no monoclonal antibody treatments to provide.
For children, COVID really affects mental well-being. “We know when schools are closed, it is extremely detrimental,” Dr. Watts said. “We know that masks work. We’ve seen minimal spread within schools where there were mask mandates. It’s not the kids complaining about the masks.” She provided a plea to continue masking in schools to keep them open.
This summit served as a unified effort from doctors on the front lines of hospitals across Kansas to sound the alarm on the dire health care situation for the state and to encourage those who are unvaccinated to get their vaccines – and those who are vaccinated to get their boosters when eligible.
“We have a singular goal here,” said Dr. Stites. “We are here to get you scared straight. We are in trouble. The reality is this is not OK. This is a crisis.”
Wednesday, December 22 at 8:00 a.m. will be the next live program with Dr. Stites. On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday during the next two weeks, we will post inpatient numbers on YouTube and Facebook, and have special Holiday editions of encore episodes from a year ago this time of year. On Wednesdays, Dr. Stites will host frontline workers and be live in studio to update the COVID infection spread and answer questions.
NOTE: Journalists should rejoin the Morning Medical Update at 8am as doctors are growing too busy again for individual interview requests. Please bring questions or send to firstname.lastname@example.org until further notice. Thanks for all you do and helping to keep the community safe with your reporting.
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