Rural patients are dying at record rates while waiting for beds in Kansas hospitals

Dr. Drew Miller talks to hospital staff outside a COVID-19 patient's room Wednesday, May 20,...
Dr. Drew Miller talks to hospital staff outside a COVID-19 patient's room Wednesday, May 20, 2020 at Kearny County Hospital in Lakin, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)(Charlie Riedel | AP)
Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 7:16 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH/Gray News) – As the state of Kansas’ hospital system deals with unprecedented staffing shortages, rural healthcare patients are dying at record rates.

According to statewide data from Motient, nearly 80 patients died in rural Kansas hospitals waiting for a hospital bed since Dec. 1.

Sabrina Baker’s mom was almost one of those patients, she told KWCH.

“My mom was sick. They called the family in to come to tell her goodbye because they had been trying for 10 days to get her transferred unsuccessfully. The system is broke, and we need to fix it,” Baker said.

Baker’s mom nearly passed in Coffey County’s rural hospital before getting transferred to a Wichita hospital. In Coffey County, staffing shortages are pushing doctors—and patients— inside COVID units past the breaking point.

Like most rural hospitals, the Coffey County hospital doesn’t have ICU capabilities. However, it’s now harder for urban hospitals to accept transfer patients who need a higher level of care.

Dr. John Shell said patients dying while waiting for a bed is difficult to accept because the medical capabilities of the United States should be “much better.”

“We’ve definitely had our own cases with patients who required care we couldn’t provide and passed in our hospital. Would they have survived if they could’ve been transferred? Probably, and that’s our concern,” Shell said.

Dr. Stacy Augustine said her biggest fear now is no longer her loved ones getting COVID; she fears her family and friends having any medical emergency and not being able to receive proper care.

“Any normal routine medical emergency that occurs... if they occur right now, it could be detrimental,” Augustine said.

Shell said the best way to help open up more beds to people who need them for various medical emergencies is to get vaccinated against COVID-19. He said of his eight COVID patients in his hospital right now, none are vaccinated.

“The fully vaccinated patients are not requiring hospitalization,” Shell said. “I think the big issue is to get your vaccination. If we can prevent admission to the hospital, that opens up a bed for someone who needs it. I think the vaccine is the key at this point.”

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