Q&A with Steven Stites, The University of Kansas Health System

November 2021

The chief medical officer for the region’s largest hospital addresses current trends and threat levels.


Q: The daily patient census there has pretty consistently recorded about 18 daily COVID-19 cases over the past couple of months, trending down to a dozen or so and up to about twice that, but often regressing to the high teens. Do you think that with the virus now being endemic, this is what hospitals are looking at for the long term?

A: It’s too soon to know if COVID will forever be with us, but it looks like waves of COVID are the current norm. COVID history continues to repeat itself, and yet we seemed surprised when the weather gets colder, people move indoors, take off their masks and we’re in COVID crisis mode again. We are seeing this play out in Eastern Europe and here at home, (and) in Colorado. Despite Colorado having a 6 percent higher vaccination rate than here, it’s still adds risk for folks to take off their masks and be around one another indoors.


Q: What’s your take on where we are with levels of vaccinations?

A: We simply must get everyone vaccinated to prevent these surges. I believe the Pfizer and Merck oral therapies to lessen the dangers of Covid may help significantly, and getting more people vaccinated will go a long way in reducing the cases of COVID, but for now … COVID remains a leading admissions diagnosis here at The University of Kansas Hospital and throughout our region. The best way to keep COVID cases low and prevent variants is to vaccinate and wear masks.  No other vaccine in history has been as rigorously tested and proven safe. People need to get vaccinated.  For now, we can anticipate we will have ongoing Covid in our hospitals and in our community.  Let’s get vaccinated and stop this spread!


Q: Beyond patient numbers, what longer-term impacts has the pandemic imposed on hospital-level care?

A: The supply chain has caught up with the demands of COVID on the medical supplies side of this disease, including personal protection equipment. The strain of COVID on the health system is currently felt in two primary ways…staffing shortages and demand for patient beds. Early in the pandemic, COVID forced a lot of workers, including health care, to stay home with children or choose a different job to avoid the stress of caring for COVID patients. Our need for staff combined with COVID patients filling up ICU and other beds adds stress to an already busy health system. (As of mid-November) we have 38 hospital beds taken up by COVID patients that would otherwise be filled with patients needing care for other chronic conditions as well as trauma. The demand for those services were high pre-pandemic and remain high.


Q: Do you see any positives coming out of this?

A: One brighter result of the pandemic that will stay with us has been a hyper-focus on infection prevention and control. We’ve strengthened policies and protocols inside the health system to keep everyone safer. I think many of these pandemic practices are now a part of the health care fabric.