COVID-19 forces Kansas health system to postpone surgeries

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) – University of Kansas Health System doctors on Thursday started postponing a small number of elective surgeries to free up bed space at its Kansas City, Kansas, hospital because the surge in COVID-19 cases is stressing it and other medical facilities around the state.

Doctors said during a morning video briefing that they’re working to see which patients can safely delay surgeries, KMBC-TV reports. The health system’s officials said it is having to turn away patients from out of state because of a lack of space.

A survey of 32 hospitals in the Kansas City area serving Kansas patients showed that 18% of all staffed beds were available, and only 9% of staffed intensive care unit beds for adults, the Kansas Hospital Association reported. Eleven of those hospitals, or 34%, said they expected to face critical staffing shortages in the next week.

“Capacity is very limited right now, especially staffing capacity,” said Janelle Friesen, spokeswoman for the Wyandotte County Health Department.

Kansas had a record daily average of 2,430 new confirmed and probable cases during the seven days that ended Wednesday, according state Department of Health and Environment data. The state also averaged a record 38 new COVID-19-related hospitalizations per day during that period, along with 18 new deaths a day.

Kansas has had more than 109,000 coronavirus cases, 4,200 hospitalizations and 1,200 deaths since the pandemic reached the state in early March, according to the health department.

Hospitals in other parts of the state are stressed as well, most notably in south-central Kansas, which is home to the state’s largest city, Wichita. Thirteen of the 30 hospitals in that region surveyed by the state association said they expected to face critical staffing shortages in the next week, and only 9% of their staffed intensive care unit beds for adults were available.

Dr. Steven Stites, the chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, said it’s not only COVID-19 patients who suffer when hospital resources are strained.

“If you have a heart attack or stroke, where are you going to go?” Stites asked. “’I’ll go to the hospital.’ Well, not if they’re overwhelmed. Where are you going to go? That’s a choice you face.”

State health officials blame the big surge in coronavirus cases on people being lax about wearing masks in public and still attending gatherings, including private family ones, such as birthday parties, baby showers and even informal get-togethers. They’re worried that the state will see an even larger spike in cases after Thanksgiving.

Rural counties have been hit especially hard in recent weeks. Norton and Sheridan counties in northwestern Kansas and Hodgeman County in southwestern Kansas have had among the highest per-capita increases in cases in the nation over the past two weeks, according to the volunteer COVID Tracking Project.

In Finney County, in southwestern Kansas, the county seat of Garden City approved a mask mandate Wednesday, but the county has no plans to follow suit, KWCH-TV reported.

Finney County Commission Chairman Duane Drees said in a statement Thursday that the city’s decision was “appropriate and reasonable,” noting that 72% of the county’s population lives there. But he also said county commissioners believe in letting those more-local officials make such decisions.

The county of about 36,000 residents has had more than 3,200 confirmed and probable cases since the pandemic started, largely because of outbreaks this spring among meatpacking plant workers. Its rate of roughly 89 cases per 1,000 residents is among the state’s highest.

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