MCPHERSON — Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, there were reports in several major metropolitan areas of hospitals being pushed to the limit on their ability to house and treat COVID patients. While in many areas that has stabilized, in other areas, including rural central Kansas, hospital capacity is sometimes being challenged.

"Periodically, hospitals experience surges in demand which can tighten resources," said Dr. Michael Bloustine, hospitalist at McPherson Hospital. "In some cases, it can even become challenging for rural hospitals to get patients transferred for specialty care when their patients need it. The current seasonal surge in hospital demand across the state isn’t just COVID-19 related, but coronavirus is probably the easiest illness for our community to try to prevent."

With 21 rooms on the inpatient floor, McPherson Hospital has been aware of its patient limit since the pandemic began in March. Staff told The Sentinel while they did not immediately see high numbers, continued exposures have the potential to challenge hospital resources.

According to hospital staff, twice in the last week the hospital has needed to care for patients in McPherson because no appropriate beds were available at referral hospitals.

Due to the nature of caring for COVID patients, not every hospital room can accommodate those needs. The Intensive Care Unit at McPherson has an additional seven rooms and the hospital has established a special area for COVID patients, but not every bed in the ICU is capable of holding a COVID patient.

"COVID patients must have a quarantine environment to protect them and the hospital staff," Bloustine said. "Air exchangers are needed to keep acceptable air quality in the rooms. There are other safety protocols in place that are necessary to provide adequate care for those patients."

According to the McPherson County Health Department, there have been 28 hospitalizations in McPherson County since the pandemic began. Thus far, 313 cases — 25 currently active — have been reported in McPherson County. According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, 285 people have recovered and there have been three deaths.

To keep from overwhelming hospitals, thus preventing them from providing the care patients need, health care providers around the state are urging help from communities to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"Though it sounds repetitious, we need people to be diligent in following suggested guidelines of wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, limiting social gatherings and interaction with others," Bloustine said. "Once we are full, our options are limited. As a small hospital, we don’t have the resources of larger regional health centers. It is important for the public to understand the impact of large-scale exposures on a local health care provider’s ability to respond."