Moran: Personal responsibility, contract staffing among solutions to COVID-19 strain on hospitals

Sen. Jerry Moran was optimistic a new piece of stimulus relief legislation could be on the horizon to assist health care facilities struggling with staffing shortages. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran emphasized Tuesday the need for Kansans to take personal responsibility to help curb rising COVID-19 numbers and growing staffing shortages at health care facilities across the state.

Moran, a Republican, presented options under consideration for staffing during a visit to Stormont Vail Hospital and Trauma Center in Topeka, a facility that in recent weeks has been facing these exact difficulties. Currently, the facility has 103 inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, and not enough health care workers to respond to these growing needs.

Moran said people must follow pandemic rules to ease the situation for health care workers on the front lines.

“Take care of our families and our neighbors and ourselves, and particularly do this for the benefit of those who are struggling to keep up with the demand for their services,” Moran said “We do not have enough personnel to take care of the needs of our state.”

Across the state, hospitals, especially in urban areas, are working with limited options to address significant staffing issues. According to the Kansas Hospital Association’s most recent update, 44% of the state’s hospitals anticipated staffing shortages this week.

During his visit to Stormont Vail, Moran met with hospital CEO Robert Kenagy, as well as staff, to discuss the hospital’s response to the pandemic and how they can best treat the rapidly rising number of COVID-19 patients.

In a statement Friday, Kenagy said Stormont had more than 150 employees out, which could require them to begin transferring patients to other facilities. Stormont has requested help in filling those positions from Kansas Emergency management, but the state has yet to meet the request.

“Every day we have to work and deal with the challenges of a hospital capacity,” Kenagy said. “We continue to offer the full range of elective surgical procedures, but that is a question ongoing is as the numbers rise. Which of those can we cut back, will we need to cut back, and how will we obtain the staff necessary to deal with all that?”

Some hospitals have paid for additional assistance from private companies, but that source appears to be tapped out, Moran said. He said options on the table now include requesting additional assistance from military and veteran’s hospitals.

Many Kansas health care providers have also indicated some sort of federal pandemic relief bill would go a long way in helping alleviate some of the issues they face.

While the Senate is on recess through Thanksgiving week and previous conversations over the bill have been met with little compromise, Moran said he is optimistic a smaller relief bill than those passed previously may be passed by the end of the calendar year. He said the best course of action would be to pass what lawmakers can agree on now and leave the debated areas up to the new Senate in January.

“Just because we can’t do everything, we can’t agree on everything, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something,” Moran said. “I think there’s a growing belief that there is a more modest piece of legislation with less spending and more targeted than what the House of Representatives has passed that could pass the United States Senate.”

Medical experts also assert another way to help ease the strain on health care providers is to reduce travels and gatherings over the holidays.

Moran, who welcomed two grandchildren into the world this year, said while he would love to spend time with family during the holiday, people must make sacrifices to reduce the pressure for those struggling with illness.

“What we’re doing here is hastening the day that I and every other family in Kansas can hold their grandchildren and can see their parents who are behind a glass at a nursing home,” Moran said. “This is about getting us in a position where things are much, much more back to normal. So, while we regret the inability to hold a new granddaughter, we’re going to do the things that we can so that we can, in the future, share a Thanksgiving or share a Christmas together maybe.”

Gov. Laura Kelly says large family gatherings for Thanksgiving would be a “disaster,” but she believes more people are taking the threat seriously now. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

In a conversation with reporters earlier Tuesday, Gov. Laura Kelly said large gatherings for Thanksgiving could spell disaster. While prisons and nursing homes were previously the primary sources of transmission, it now appears to be family gatherings, she said.

With Thanksgiving only a few days away and all but one Kansas county in the red zone — the federal designation for areas with high rates of community transmission — Kelly was pleased to see several additional counties had adapted her new mask mandate, which goes into effect tomorrow.

“Very little pushback this time around,” Kelly said. “I think it’s because people are so much more aware of how serious this is and how widespread it is. And it is no longer an urban issue.”