Some Kansas City area hospitals, facing their biggest influx of coronavirus patients since the pandemic began, are refusing ambulances because their beds are already filled, according to a leading doctor at St. Luke's Health System.
On Wednesday night, eight metro hospitals and emergency departments reported such high volumes of patients that they temporarily stopped accepting ambulances, Marc Larsen, Operations Director of Saint Luke's COVID Response Team, said in a phone interview Thursday.
Two of the eight were part of the St. Luke's system, according hospital spokesperson, who did not identify the other medical centers.
As of 1 p.m. Thursday, five were still diverting ambulances for all who weren't in most critical need, such as stroke, heart attack and trauma patients, Larsen said. When this happens, alternative care areas accept the patients instead.
"We're bursting at the seams in the metropolitan area, and really across the state and the region," said Larsen, who is also an emergency physician.
The worsening conditions in Kansas City Missouri reports record hospitalizations and rural Kansas hospitals report they are under pressure.
On Wednesday, Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg, Kansas, put out a statement saying they are pausing elective and non-emergent procedures because of capacity concerns.
In western Kansas, about 300 miles west of Kansas City, more than 50 employees at the Gove County Medical Center have been infected with the virus, the hospital said in a statement Tuesday. At least 25 staff members have recovered and two are hospitalized.
In Kansas City, the St. Luke's Health System hit a record number of COVID-19 patients -- more than 100 -- on Tuesday, more than double their August average. They had 90 coronavirus patients across their hospitals as of Thursday afternoon.
The situation has worsened over the course of the year. In May and June, the hospital system averaged 15 patients a day. In July and August it was 50. In September, 63. In the first 14 days of October, Larsen said, St. Luke's averaged 85 patients a day.
Through this growth, the volume of sickest patients remains high, he added. As of Thursday, 25 of the 90 patients with coronavirus were in the intensive care unit.
Some pre-operation and recovery rooms are being transformed into ICUs, Larsen said.
"All of the systems across the metropolitan area are continually struggling with having adequate capacity for the surge that we are continually seeing and experiencing," Larsen said.
He pointed to New York City, Louisiana and Texas as examples of what can happen when hospital systems reach capacity.
"I worry that if we don't start taking this seriously as a metropolitan area, we're going to be the next New York," he said. "We're going to be the next hot spot, because though we have a lot of hospitals, we have a lot of capacity in the area, we are filling up fast."
Larsen noted that flu season, when hospitals are often taxed with more patients, is not yet in full swing. He said it was the important that people get a flu shot this year.
Though coronavirus and the flu often begin with similar symptoms, including a fever, cough and fatigue, COVID-19 takes a greater toll, Larsen said. Its mortality rate is higher, the quarantine time is longer and it is more contagious.
"Some of these distancing and masking and attention to hand hygiene will allow us to see some decline of the COVID-19 hospitalizations and general rates, but that remains to be seen," Larsen said. "We still continue to see an upward surge in patients, so right now I just encourage people to stay vigilant and to keep doing all the things that worked so well back in April and May."
Kansas and Missouri
The United States is entering a "third wave" of the pandemic, said David Wild, the Vice President of Performance Improvement at The University of Kansas Health System.
On Thursday, the Kansas City metro area encompassing Kansas City and Jackson, Clay and Platte counties in Missouri and Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas, gained 1,128 coronavirus cases for a total of 45,393 cases to date. Across the metro, 645 people have died from the virus.
Earlier this week, the Missouri Hospital Association announced "statewide hospitalizations continued to eclipse previous records" with more than 1,400 patients.
As of Thursday morning, 150,554 Missourians have tested positive for the coronavirus and 2,442 had died, according to state health department data. People age 80 or older account for 1,205 of the deaths. The positive test rate was 17.9%.
On Wednesday Kansas reported its largest seven-day increases in both COVID-19-related deaths and new coronavirus cases. In a video message last week, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Lee Norman warned that Kansas is losing the battle against COVID-19.
Kansas has at least 69,155 cases including 838 deaths. People age 75 or older make up 513 of the deaths. There have been a total of 3,309 hospitalizations and there are 241 active clusters, according to KDHE.
Across the country, more than 7.9 million people have contracted the virus and 217,374 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.