‘A tipping point’: Kansas City hospitals are turning away patients due to COVID surge

Like other hospitals in the Kansas City region, the University of Kansas Health System is turning down transfer patients because its beds are full, setting up a potential crisis, its chief medical officer said Wednesday.

“I think we’re at a tipping point,” Steve Stites said during KU’s daily briefing. “If we don’t take it seriously, we could easily end up back where we were in November.”

The hospital is “running full steam,” like others in the metro, because of an increase in COVID-19 patients and others returning to the hospital who may have stayed away at the height of the pandemic. Last fall, Stites said, the hospital had beds available.

KU has been turning down between one and six acute patients each day. If they had not been doing so, staff would be treating about 100 such patients, Stites said. Increasing COVID-19 infections could exacerbate the problem.

“We are turning down transfers, which is creating, I think, a real concern, maybe even a crisis here in our region because patients are having trouble landing into beds anywhere near their hometown,” Stites said.


Across the state line, Missouri health officials on Wednesday reported the highest daily increase in infections since mid-January with 2,995 additional cases. The Missouri Independent, a news organization covering the state, reported that the seven-day average of cases rose to 2,144 per day, up “one-third in seven days and more than triple the average of June 21.”

Also Wednesday, Mercy Hospital in Springfield said it was planning to open a third COVID-19 ICU unit as the highly contagious delta variant is rampaging through the unvaccinated in southwestern Missouri.

“We do not want to prepare a bed for you,” said Erik Frederick, the hospital’s chief administrative officer.

During the KU briefing, Lisa Clough, an infectious diseases doctor, said residents should try to help control this wave of the virus, which is “a bit quieter and sneaking up on us more than in ways past.”

Stites noted that a New York Times map displaying a county’s “risk level” for unvaccinated people showed things were getting worse in the Kansas City region. On the map, purple indicated the most severe risk.

“Missouri has been overrun by these purple counties,” he said, saying the delta variant has spread north from Springfield, Missouri. “Now it’s got Jackson County, Missouri; it’s got Wyandotte County, Kansas; it’s got the whole eastern side of Kansas.”

Stites said the region is experiencing a third wave of the virus. That’s not true across the country, though, because other regions have higher vaccinations rates.

“This has become now the pandemic of the unvaccinated,” he said. “This situation could well grow worse if we don’t respond.”