As the first cases of COVID-19 reached Wichita in early March, we developed a series of contingency plans for how Ascension Via Christi could meet the needs of our community should we experience an increase in patients requiring hospitalization.
Like with most disaster planning, we did so with the hope that we would never need to go beyond the first phase, which was dedicating two COVID-19 medical and intensive care units at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis.
Our biggest hurdle at that time was securing enough personal protective equipment to keep our associates healthy and safe; working with our national Ascension ministry and our community, we secured the supplies and equipment we needed.
By late spring, the number of patients hospitalized at St. Francis for COVID-19 had dropped to single digits and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
In mid-July, we once again began seeing an increase in patients needing to be hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19. Those patients were sicker, younger and increasing in number much faster than those we initially saw.
As a community, the number of patients requiring hospitalization for COVID-19 went from a previous high in the low thirties in April to 70 patients in early October. Two weeks later, that number had jumped to 90 and at the beginning of this week topped 110.
As the numbers have grown, we have moved through other phases of our COVID-19 response, expanding the number of beds in our dedicated COVID-19 units. Now our biggest concern is having the nurses we need to staff those beds. Despite our ongoing recruitment efforts, including 100 percent pay continuation during the previous lull, it is growing increasingly difficult given the nationwide demand to recruit more nurses.
To ensure our ability to provide safe, quality care and offer relief to our nurses who have been picking up extra hours and shifts, we are bringing in more than 60 registered nurse travelers from outside our market. We also are hiring licensed practical nurses to provide extra pairs of hands.
While we continue to adapt our facilities and staffing to respond to the need, one thing is clear: We cannot do so indefinitely.
When I recently rounded on our COVID-19 units, I saw what our community is unable to see: The deep impressions the masks are leaving on our clinicians’ faces. The patients who staff must turn every shift to help them breathe easier. The weariness on the faces of the nurses, respiratory therapists, physicians and other frontline caregivers who have seen far too many lives lost to this disease.
This remarkably strong and committed team is tired and asks so little in return: Wear a mask when you are within six feet of anyone who is not an immediate member of your household and any gatherings where you cannot practice social distancing.
COVID-19 is an immediate threat to the well-being of our community. On behalf of our frontline caregivers, who are going above and beyond in doing their part, please do yours.