TOPEKA (KSNT) – Seventeen hospital chief medical officers gathered on Wednesday morning to discuss the state of the ongoing pandemic in Kansas and the greater Kansas City metro area.

Dr. Steve Stites with the University of Kansas Health System began the discussion on the News and Community Conference Call on Jan. 26. Dr. Stites gave a short overview of where Kansas stands today.

“Since this last gathering three weeks ago COVID cases have doubled, hospitalizations and deaths are setting records and hundreds of healthcare workers with COVID have caused major surgical delays,” Dr. Stites said. “This is hands-down the toughest surge the medical community has had to face since the pandemic began two years ago.”

Dr. Stites went on to say that while other parts of the world and the U.S. are seeing a decline in COVID-19 cases, Kansas is moving in the opposite direction. On Tuesday, he reported Kansas is currently experiencing the highest COVID-19 infection rate in the U.S. as a whole.

Other chief medical officers from around the state, who were in the meeting, each reported how their own hospitals are faring. While some have seen small levels of improvement, many hospitals are dealing with similar issues as the pandemic moves forward into its second year.

Dr. Robert Freelove, the chief medical officer of the Salina Regional Health Center, highlighted some of the problems that his hospital is facing.

“Our biggest challenge right now is staff shortages and illness,” Dr. Freelove said. “We had 120 out, 85 of those who were positive. To put that into perspective, if it’s a ten-day out, which it currently is for healthcare workers, that’s 850 days which is a little over two years of lost workforce.”

The doctors then spoke about Kansas Senate Bill 381 which would authorize the prescribing and dispensing of drugs for off-label use to prevent and treat COVID-19 infections. The bill would allow people to use drugs such as Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine in lieu of other treatment efforts being recommended by medical professionals.

Kansas Senate Bill 308 contains similar language. It would create the Healthcare Individual Rights Affirmation Act which would mandate that all people have access to public places without the need for facial coverings or vaccinations. It would require physicians to prescribe certain medications for off-label uses if required by patients.

Stites and the other doctors on the News Community Conference Call spoke out against Senate Bill 381 and 308.

“The patient-physician relationship is sacred,” Dr. Kevin Dishman of Stormont Vail Health said. “To try to circumvent that process through mandation, through state law, is very concerning to me. I believe it should be concerning to all physicians in the state of Kansas.”

“I’m baffled at the intrusion to practicing medicine,” Freelove said. “That’s a pretty slippery slope to a pretty dangerous place… and if we’re going to require something, why not require something that we know works, like vaccines.”

The Morning Medical Update will meet again on Thursday, Jan. 27, at 8 a.m. To view the full conversation of the News and Community Conference Call for Wednesday, Jan. 26, click here.

To view a letter from the University of Kansas Health System in opposition to SB 381 and 308, see the document below.