ST. LOUIS (AP) — Small rural hospitals in Kansas and Missouri are increasingly spending hours searching for facilities they can transfer patients to because they are struggling to cope with the surge in coronavirus cases.
As the region’s hospitals fill up with COVID-19 patients, smaller hospitals such as the one in Holton, Kan., are finding it difficult to treat patients who don’t have the disease but still need care.
“People don’t just stop having heart attacks or those sorts of things,” said Carrie Saia, CEO of the hospital in Holton, which is about 30 miles north of Topeka, Kan. “I just worry that we’re going to be so consumed that we’re not really able to care for some emergency that comes in.”
The urban and rural health care systems in Missouri and Kansas are intertwined, with smaller hospitals identifying which patients need more advanced care and transferring them to larger facilities in bigger cities. But lately, smaller hospitals have been spending hours searching for beds for their patients in larger facilities in places such as St. Louis, Springfield and Kansas City, Mo., and Wichita, Kan.
When COVID-19 patients stress the capacity of smaller hospitals, it makes it harder to care for patients with heart attacks, strokes or other serious conditions.
“Those patients, when they come through our doors, honestly that’s a little more scary than COVID,” said Valarie Davis, is the administrator of Mercy’s smaller hospitals in Cassville and Aurora, Mo. “We have to get them somewhere as quick as we possibly can.”
And rural hospital administrators increasingly worry about how the surge in patients is affecting their nurses and doctors.
“I’ve had one of the nurses literally break down right in front of me because of her concern for one of the patients, which is a wonderful thing but it takes a toll on the staff,” said Dennis Franks, CEO of the 25-bed Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center in Chanute, Kan. “They’re working a lot.”
The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus in the area set another new record Sunday even as the most-recent statewide hospitalization numbers declined slightly.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force said the seven-day average of new patients in the area increased by 13 to 897 Sunday to set a record for the third day in a row. The data include patients from BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital facilities in the St. Louis area.
The total number of COVID-19 patients in the area increased to 994 on Sunday, up 11 from the previous day. Area hospitals said they were currently using 77 percent of the total staffed beds and 89 percent of their intensive care beds.
Statewide, the number of hospitalizations dropped to 2,654 from 2,813 on Thursday, which was the most-recent figure available.
Missouri reported 3,193 new virus cases Sunday to give the state a total of 295,933 cases. The state also reported six new deaths for a total of 3,823.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Missouri decreased over the past two weeks, going from 4,379.43 new cases per day on Nov. 14 to 3,632.57 new cases per day on Saturday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.