WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A Kansas doctor says one in five nurses across the country are leaving the profession or expected to leave as COVID-19 continues to be a problem. It creates even more issues at hospitals and leads to longer wait times in the emergency room.

“This is hands down the toughest surge the medical community has had to face since the pandemic began in 2020,” said Dr. Steven Stites, KU Health System

On Wednesday, more than a dozen health systems across Kansas sounded the alarm on critical staffing shortages.

“If we could hire between 40-50 nursing staff tomorrow, we’d do it,” said Dr. Robert Freelove, Salina Regional Health Center.

Dr. Freelove says Salina Regional Health was forced to limit elective surgeries in October.

“From a nursing standpoint, that shortage has preexisted COVID, but it was nowhere near as bad as what it has become with the addition of COVID.”

Hays Medical Center is not able to take patients from other facilities.

“We have five in the ICU, which is a pretty big number for us,” said Dr. Heather Harris, Hays Medical Center. “We have six COVID employees out and two with flu already today, and that will increase greatly over the next week or two.”

Garden City’s St. Catherine Hospital’s ICU has been at capacity for four months.

On Tuesday, 26 employees were out between St. Catherine and Bob Wilson Hospital in Ulysses.

“That’s the highest number of employees that we’ve had out waiting for testing or with COVID illness,” said Dr. James Alexander, St. Catherine Hospital’s chief medical officer.

Nurse poaching is also a key factor playing into shortages.

“As you begin to see shifts in COVID hotspots, some of those traveling nurses will end up in a more critical area. Not that we’re not at a critical point in Kansas.”

While there’s no perfect solution, some have suggested bringing back retired nurses who still have their licenses.

Others are hoping for a statewide emergency declaration.