Shawnee Mission hospital official forced to consider morgue capacity amid escalating COVID-19 surge

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TOPEKA — At AdventHealth in Shawnee Mission, the number of patients being treated for COVID-19 has doubled in the past week to 82.

Another 25 people are waiting in the emergency room for a bed to become available, some for 48 hours.


Lisa Hays, the chief medical officer there, says the hospital nearly ran out of ventilators before new ones arrived this week, and the federal supply of antibody treatments used for COVID-19 patients can’t keep up with their needs.

“The other issue, a new thing for me, is morgue capacity,” Hays said. “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.”

Hays joined other hospital leaders in a news briefing Wednesday hosted by the University of Kansas Health System. Pressure on medical care providers continues to build as the state sets new records for COVID-19 infections.

Hays said her staff is “on the brink.”

“Every day, when I round in the intensive care unit and check on the staff, people are in the tears,” Hays said. “They’re struggling to get the community to understand how dire the situation is in the hospital and the workload that they’re taking on.”

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 27 new deaths, 22,240 new cases and 139 hospitalizations since Monday.

The number of new cases surpassed the previous two-day record of 16,341, set earlier this month. The average number of new cases for each of the past seven days is 7,448. Before the start of the month, the seven-day average had never topped 2,800 cases per day.

Catherine Satterwhite, a regional administrator for Health and Human Services, said ICU admissions typically trail infections by 14 days, and deaths trail by 21 days.

“In my head, I’m thinking it’s going to be a rough couple of weeks,” Satterwhite said.

The omicron variant has had a different effect on different parts of the country, and the Midwest is still seeing a sharp trajectory, Satterwhite said. Based on data from elsewhere in the world, health officials expect to see a sharp decline in new cases — but they don’t know when.

The number of unvaccinated will determine how long omicron hangs around, she said. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 57.6% of Kansans are fully vaccinated, including 68.8% of adults. Those numbers trail the national averages by about 5 percentage points.


At KU Health, only 18 of the 123 patients who are being actively treated for COVID-19 are fully vaccinated.

Satterwhite said federal officials have ventilators available for Kansas hospitals, but there aren’t enough monoclonal antibodies to meet hospital needs. The federal government is deploying all of the antibodies in the stockpile and not holding any back, Satterwhite said.

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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