Hospitals creating staffing solutions as COVID-19 cases continue to escalate

COVID-19 cases have now dropped below 100 according to County numbers.

By Adam Strunk

The county now has 263 residents with active COVID-19 cases, and experienced a jump of 126 new cases in the last four days.

As of Saturday, Nov. 14, the county averaged 38 new cases a day during the prior week. It ranked 10th in Kansas this week for the largest increase in COVID-19 cases. For context in early October the average of new cases per day was less than two.

Hospitalizations of residents have jumped from seven to 12 in the four-day period, as well.

In total, the county now has had 984 residents test positive for COVID-19. More than quarter of those are currently classified as active cases.

In south central Kansas, according to the Kansas Hospital Association, regional hospitals had 13 percent capacity remaining for intensive care unit beds, with 38 available as of Friday. Overall, 358 people in south central Kansas are now hospitalized with COVID-19 or a suspected case; 103 are in intensive care units.
Locally, Newton Medical Center Director of Communications Shelly Conrady said the hospital continues to have room to serve area patients, but that could change on a moment’s notice.

“We are still treating a higher volume of COVID-19 patients than we have in the past and are continuing to expand our ability to serve these patients as we bring additional negative-airflow rooms online,” she said.

According to the KHA, 55 percent of hospitals in the region expect to experience critical staffing shortages in the next week. Part of this has to do with demand, and part has to do with staff illnesses or quarantines.

Some Newton Medical Center staff are in quarantine, though Conrady didn’t provide an exact number, saying it was fluid.

She said the hospital tests as necessary following possible exposures.

“If a quarantine is needed, we evaluate the impact on a case-by-case basis and determine the best course of action to ensure patient care,” she said, saying that so far the hospital has been able to meet the staffing needs caused by surges.

How the hospital handles possible staff exposures can mean a number of different actions. Staff members can be quarantined. That can result in certain non-emergency and elective services being limited to make up for less staffing.

It can also mean that a staff member exposed continues to work, depending on how critically important their position is.

“As you may know, some frontline positions are highly-specialized and cannot be easily covered by another staff person,” she said. “If any of those positions are affected, we work with the CDC to determine if a waiver is an option, if a service will be temporarily unavailable (i.e. a non-critical service like rehabilitation), or if an outside staff resource can be identified.”

Health departments provide waivers to certain first responders and essential medical staff from quarantine procedures due to the importance of their job to public health and safety.

For instance, Newton Fire/EMS employees were exposed to COVID-19 last month but continued working to make sure the city had emergency protection.

“Should we find ourselves in a situation similar to the one at fire/EMS, where a waiver is necessary, we work with the CDC and increase PPE precautions for interactions with that staff member to ensure safety,” Conrady said.

She added that the hospital is also working to create a secondary labor pool of retired and part-time medical professionals to help deal with any future shortages. She said the hospital will soon be asking for any area registered nurses or licensed nurse practitioners to serve as part-time or floating staff.

“Our goal is to have a pool of skilled nurses we may call upon, if the disease burden continues to rise in our community,” she said. “This will ensure our ability to both care for our patients and support our amazing staff.”

She said the secondary labor pool would not serve in a front-line capacity but instead do tasks at the hospital to free up staff to deal with COVID-19 patients.

In total, the state has added 17,874 cases in the last week. Statewide, the number of Kansans who died from the disease increased by 41 from Nov. 11 to equal 1,256.

Nationally new cases continue to surpass records with the U.S. With new cases in a single day reaching 163,000 on Nov. 12.

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