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On Monday, Sedgwick County’s COVID-19 dashboard reached a worrying milestone: For the first time since the pandemic began, all 208 of the county’s ICU beds were full, if only momentarily.

Kansans remain among the most vulnerable in the country to surprise medical bills — charges from outside an insurance network that the consumer only discovers after treatment.

A new research brief from the Kansas Health Institute points to studies suggesting the charges are common in Kansas. It’s part of a shrinking minority of states yet to pass laws reining in the practice.

Saint Luke’s Health System says it will close its two community hospitals in Overland Park at the end of the year. Both hospitals opened just a couple of years ago.

The health system said declining patient volumes were behind the decision.

“Overall, our community hospital model has performed remarkably well and has allowed us to effectively expand access in a critical segment of our market,” Bobby Olm-Shipman, CEO of Saint Luke’s South and East, said in a statement.

When the coronavirus hit Kansas, there’s no question the state — like the rest of the country — was unprepared. That showed in the mad scramble to buy more surgical and N95 masks, gowns and nasal swabs.

Public officials say Kansas has made progress on those and other fronts. Yet gaps in data make it hard to pinpoint whether Kansas has what it needs — at a time when cases are increasing at an alarming rate.

Here’s a quick look at where Kansas stands now on the most important measures.

How common is coronavirus in Kansas?

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Most health experts continue to advise people to stay home to avoid catching Covid-19, or to maintain social distancing when out in public.

Lynn Hutchinson doesn’t have those options.

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TOPEKA — Officials in Wichita and Sedgwick County worry that a continued resurgence of novel coronavirus cases will force local hospitals to scramble for new intensive care unit beds to treat the seriously sick.

County Manager Tom Stolz told Sedgwick County Commissioners on Tuesday that if current hospitalization trends and use of ICU beds for coronavirus patients continues into next week, it's likely the situation will be deemed “critical.”

The county health department reported that eight of the 35 ICU beds available for coronavirus patients were open as of Monday.

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Wichita hospitals and dental offices are making plans to end their coronavirus pause and begin a return to full operations.

Wesley Healthcare CEO William Voloch says elective surgeries and imaging will resume Monday on a limited basis.

"We’re not going to go full-scale," he says. "We are not going to be doing everything that we were doing, but this is a way for us to start."

He says the hospital group has enough capacity and ventilator supply to serve a greater number of patients. Wesley also plans to reevaluate its restricted visitation policy.

LAWRENCE, KANSAS — Herington Municipal Hospital got fed up with long waits for lab results that would tell its patients with respiratory symptoms whether they have the novel coronavirus.

So when a sales representative called the 25-bed hospital in rural central Kansas offering tests that produce results in less than half an hour, Herington ordered 500.

“We answered the phone on the right day,” CEO Isabel Schmedemann said in an interview this week. “I wish we had ordered more.”

One hundred people in her community have already come in for the test.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

WICHITA, Kansas — Flatten the curve: A phrase that didn’t mean anything two months ago is now the driving factor behind social distancing, stay-at-home orders and limiting the number of people who can gather in one place.

The idea is to make sure hospitals aren’t overrun with severe COVID-19 cases, as well as help hospitals conserve limited resources such as personal protective equipment.

But in Kansas, there isn’t publicly available data on whether a hospital is close to filling up. And few are willing to share that information.

Rural hospitals face “catastrophic cash shortages” brought on by the COVID-19 crisis and need congressional action to save them, according to a Leawood, Kansas, advocacy group that represents hundreds of rural hospitals.

In a letter Monday addressed to the leaders of the U.S. House and Senate, the National Rural Health Association asks that 20% of the $100 billion in funding for hospitals in the CARES Act, the $2 trillion coronavirus response bill passed by Congress last month, be set aside for rural providers.  

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