TOPEKA (KSNT) – They’re being impacted by more than just COVID patients.

From staffing shortages to emotional distress, the emergency care system is seeing a domino effect of the coronavirus.

Shawnee County healthcare members met virtually Thursday to discuss the hidden impacts COVID is bringing to the community.

The stress staff members have endured over the last two years is making an already difficult job harder.

“It becomes extremely emotional when you have a younger population – we have a 27-year-old in the ICU or people in their 20’s and sometimes in their teens very sick and don’t survive this – it puts a lot of emotional stress on our staff,” Stormont Vail Health Dr. Salah Najm said.

That stress is made worse with the shortage of employees.

“We have empty beds that we could fill, but we cannot fill them because we do not have the staff,” Chief operating officer of Brewster Place Leanna Chaffee said.

One hidden impact of living through a pandemic, the societal view on hospitals and medical care has shifted.

“Patients that are coming into our emergency departments are generally sicker, they’re sicker than they have been before. An unusual phenomenon we identified two years ago, in a sense over public fear of the effects of this virus in patients with other illnesses – in a sense not wanting to go to the hospital,” Chairman Department of Emergency Medicine at University of Kansas St. Francis Dr. Keenen Thompson said.

Because of the association with COVID and hospitals – fewer people are checking in. Meaning, if someone is sick without COVID, they aren’t getting treatment fast enough.

That’s leading to a problematic cycle where doctors are having to take more time to treat patients on illnesses that are further along.

“By the time we would get them stabilized in our emergency department and they make it into the inpatient side, they’re much more difficult patients, much more complicated patients to manage, because they become sicker in the outpatient world before they came in for us,” Dr. Thompson said.

Doctors say if you have another illness get checked out before it’s too late.