Hospital staffing shortages contribute to lower hospital bed availability across Kansas

Hospital bed availability is lower across Kansas than it was at this time last year, according to Motient, which operates software that assists health systems with medical transports.

The Kansas Hospital Association attributes the bed space to a statewide staffing shortage that has lingered along with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“However, as I’ve been visiting with our hospitals, it seems as though that we’re still able to accommodate all the patient needs that are being requested for health care services at this point,” said Chad Austin, president and CEO of the association.

Motient calls approximately 40 of Kansas’ receiving and potential receiving hospitals — hospitals equipped to serve patients in critical condition — twice a day to get an update on hospital bed availability. Motient ranks hospital bed availability on a scale from one to three, with one representing hospital beds available and three representing low hospital bed availability.

“Last summer, going into June, July, again, we were 1.5, 1.6, 1.7. Well, now we’re 2.4, 2.3,” said Richard Watson, co-founder of Motient.

For the University of Kansas Health System, an academic medical hospital, bed availability is always low, as patients are sometimes subjected to a waiting list for advanced medical care, according to spokeswoman Jill Chadwick.

Chadwick wrote in an email that COVID-19 is contributing to the hospital staff shortage.

“We still have people testing positive who aren’t all that sick, but they can’t come to work,” she wrote.

The longer-term question, according to Watson, is rural hospital viability. Sixty-eight percent of hospitals in Kansas are in rural areas, according to the Kansas Hospital Association.

Rural hospitals have less staff and therefore are affected by staff turnover, said Ron Marshall, director of preparedness and regulatory affairs at the Kansas Hospital Association.

“Going into fall, if we do have a surge, it’s not going to take much to really put us right back in the spot we were last year,” Watson said. “I think that’s the message year on year, it just looks more fragile this fall or this summer than it did last summer.”

The seven-day average of Kansas COVID-19 hospitalizations for the week of June 14, 2021, was 138. A year later, the average is 140, according to John Hopkins University. COVID-19 cases are higher than they were at this time last year.

The Kansas Department for Health and Environment reported 3,949 new cases and 3 new deaths from COVID-19 last week. The virus has killed 8,943 Kansans since the start of the pandemic, according to KDHE numbers.

Motient saw a turning point in December, when hospitals were most overwhelmed. There was a 5% increase in death rates while patients waited to be transferred to receiving hospitals, according to Watson. The company then put an emphasis on ensuring patients were being transferred appropriately.

“One of Motient’s biggest support or supportive tools to hospitals was that they were helping transfer patients,” said Cindy Samuelson, spokeswoman for the Kansas Hospital Association.

Watson recommends — when applicable — “moving patients backwards.” He said there is an ability to transfer patients back to local hospitals once they’ve reached a stable enough condition in receiving hospitals.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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Derek Nester
Derek Nester
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2020 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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