CoronavirusNewsThe SouthSider

Stressed hospitals are forced to hunt for ventilators

(AP) — Doctors in Missouri and Kansas are hunting down ventilators and running out of monoclonal antibodies as COVID-19 patient counts hit pandemic highs at a growing number of hospitals.

The situation is so bad in the St. Louis area that health officials here are urging people just to stay home.

“Any social gathering of any kind at this time is risky, it will put people at risk,” said St. Louis’ health director, Dr. Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis. She urged people to leave home only to go to work, school, doctor’s appointments and grocery shopping.

Health officials for hospitals in the Kansas City and Wichita areas issued a desperate plea Wednesday for people to wear masks and avoid crowds.

The strain has prevented bigger, city hospitals from accepting as many rural transfer patients as they otherwise might, including patients who need treatment for heart attacks, strokes, serious car accidents or other non-COVID-19 reasons.

One of those bigger hospitals, Liberty Hospital on the northern edge of the Kansas City area, had to borrow ventilators from the state of Missouri’s stockpile and hunt for more high-flow oxygen machines, said Dr. Raghu Adiga, the hospital’s chief medical officer.

“Every day is a new record,” Adiga said, adding that the hospital was treating 60 COVID-19 patients, which was 11 more than its previous high in December of 2020.

He said the hospital had only two doses of monoclonal antibodies left and was administering them Wednesday. Nonessential surgeries were postponed and the hospital’s staffing was so thin on Tuesday that its office staff helped make beds.

“This is all hands on deck time, unfortunately,” he said. “And this is the situation everywhere in the city right now. This is not a time to slip and fall.”

Dr. Lisa Hays, the chief medical officer at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, described the ventilator situation at the hospital in the Kansas City suburb of Merriam, Kan., as “tenuous.”

She said she received an emergency call on Saturday night from the chief nursing officer because the hospital was down to just one available ventilator. She said the hospital managed to hunt down more, but that the situation is complicated by the fact that not all of the machines can handle the high-oxygen flow that COVID-19 patients require.

Meanwhile, more than 100 employees tested positive for COVID-19 and were on sick leave, and patient deaths are mounting, Hays said.

“I had to learn how many bodies our morgue could hold yesterday and determine whether that was going to be adequate for what our needs are,” she said.

HCA Midwest Health has been shuffling ventilators around among its Kansas City-area hospitals, where 255 COVID-19 patients were filling about a quarter of the beds, said Dr. Kim Megow, the chief medical officer. Another 25 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized Wednesday in the health system’s rural facilities.

Megow said she had hoped that the arrival of a federal disaster medical assistance team at Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., would allow the system to handle more patients. But she said the federal contingent instead has had to act as substitutes because more than 400 employees were out sick.

“The COVID blizzard continues,” she lamented.

Ascension Via Christi Health’s Wichita hospitals were treating more than 170 COVID-19 patients, said Dr. Sam Antonios, the system’s chief clinical officer. He said about 30 more were hospitalized in the system elsewhere in the state.

“We have unfortunately beat the 2020 record that we had,” he said. “And it’s obviously putting strain on the system.”

He said Ascension has been able to move ventilators around to prevent a shortage, adding that the bigger concern was the low supply of monoclonal antibodies.

His comments came after Wichita’s City Council received a dire report from medical officials Tuesday. The council took no action on the report, but it directed the city manager to look for ways that the city can contribute to efforts to improve testing availability and promote the vaccine, The Wichita Eagle reported.

Dr. Catherine Satterwhite, a U.S. Department of Health & Human Services official for a region that includes Kansas and Missouri, said case counts were on “a very, very steep trajectory.”

“We anticipate that it will be a sharp decline,” she said. “What we don’t know is when, and we also know that there are still a lot of pockets of unvaccinated or under-vaccinated people. A lot of people haven’t started their vaccine series, and a lot of people haven’t gotten their booster yet. So those kind of things impact how long Omicron will hang around.”

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