By Jessie Wagoner
COVID-19 cases have increased dramatically in the last two weeks, leaving McPherson Hospital in a dire situation. Monday morning, Dr. Sheila Gorman visited the McPherson County Commission meeting to provide an update on the state of COVID-19 in the community.
“The big picture, in the county, we currently have active 331 cases,” Gorman said. “That is a huge increase. By comparison, the first nine days of December, there were 156 cases; the first nine days in January, there were 165 cases. We have more than doubled. COVID is very, very active in the community.”
Since Monday morning when Gorman spoke to the county commission, the McPherson County Health Department updated their data. As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, the county was reporting 479 active cases.
The active cases Gorman speaks of are the cases hospital and health department officials know that have been tested at the clinic, urgent care or the hospital. Those do not include cases where people have tested at home, so it is likely there are many more positive cases in the county.
Gorman said the impact at the hospital and for patients is significant. She reports the hospital in McPherson currently has five patients who are COVID positive. However, the hospital is full of other patients who need more care than McPherson can provide, but they are unable to get them beds at other hospitals.
“It is really a remarkable thing,” Gorman said. “We have people in our ICU that have no business being there. We would never admit those patients there under other circumstances because they need specialists. They need cardiologists, pulmonologists, nephrologists, neurologists, and we don’t have them, and we cannot get them to where they need to go.”
She said there is a new service in the state that is trying to help connect hospitals to help get patients where they need to be. However, in spite of those efforts, there is no place to put these patients. Gorman said they are finding that people are dying while waiting to get to other hospitals.
“It is grave,” Gorman said. “It is very grave.”
She said clinic staff is now working in the hospital, trying to assist with patients due to the high demand. Each day begins with two to five patients waiting in the emergency room for a room either at McPherson Hospital or waiting for a bed at another hospital. Waiting times in the emergency room have extended to days, not just hours. Oftentimes, the loss of a patient overnight is the only way a bed opens up for a new patient.
Gorman said the hospital has created a team to begin looking into how they will proceed when they need to begin rationing care and rationing ventilators. She said that time is not far off.
“All of our staff are doing things they aren’t comfortable with because they have to,” Gorman said. “Our ICU providers are having to take care of things that would normally be cared for by specialists. They are being put in a horrible position of trying to take care of things to the best of their ability.”
Gorman said now is not the time for people to have strokes, heart attacks or trauma. Even a broken hip could mean waiting several days in the E.R. for a transfer to another hospital with an available bed and orthopedist to perform the surgery. While hospital staff will provide the best care they can, they won’t be able to transfer those patients to a higher level of care.
“The options we have left are not good,” Gorman said.
Gorman said the one thing that can be done is get control of COVID and reduce hospitalizations. The best way to reduce hospitalizations is through the COVID vaccine. Unvaccinated people are eight times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID. Gorman said the hospital is doing everything they can, and it is time for the community to do its part.
“I can tell you our medical staff is making heroic efforts every day,” Gorman said. “I need you to know how hard they are working for you. Now I need you to instate a mask ordinance and help us.”
Gorman said it is time to instate a mask mandate. Other counties in the state have done so, and she said now is the time to do every possible thing to help reduce the spread, reduce hospitalizations and reduce mortality.
“I need fewer hospitalizations,” Gorman said. “If we can’t reduce hospitalizations, we are going to keep losing people that we shouldn’t be losing.”
Gorman requested the county commission instate the mask mandate. The commission took no action on her request.
During the McPherson City Commission meeting Monday morning, the commission made the decision to discuss a mask ordinance at the next commission meeting on Jan. 17.
“We are the highest we have ever been,” Mayor Tom Brown said in regard to the current COVID-19 case count. “We will have to look at this from a city standpoint over the next week of what you want to do, if anything, in terms of masks or whatever if we are going to stay this high.”
Fire Chief TJ Wyssmann advised the fire department is still offering COVID-19 testing, and they have seen a tremendous increase in the number of people being tested.
“We are fully scheduled each day, so if you need a test, call for an appointment,” Brown said.
As of the most recent update from the McPherson County Health Department, 53.5 percent of the eligible population in McPherson County is vaccinated. The McPherson County Health Department has vaccines readily available and encourages anyone eligible to get vaccinated.
Since Monday morning when Dr. Gorman spoke to the county commission, the McPherson County Health Department has updated their data. As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, the county is reporting 479 active cases. This does not include any positive cases only determined through a home test.