The problem for the local hospital is complex, but in a way it comes down to a simple choice of words. “Full” is not really “full,” and that’s the problem.

Back to that in a minute.

A substantive story in Sunday’s Mercury outlined the issue: Ascension Via Christi is turning away patients for services at times because it doesn’t have enough staff on hand. Rather than getting treated at their hometown hospital, Manhattan-area residents are being forced to go to hospitals in Topeka or Kansas City.

As the story reported, the problem occurs relatively infrequently compared to the entire volume of patients treated in the hospital, or even in the emergency room. But it’s happening enough that ambulance transfers are up significantly, and it’s certainly happening enough that a lot of people around town are talking about it.

Hospital officials acknowledge the problem. They say there are typically eight to 30 so-called “bed-cap transfers” per month. Those occur not because of a lack of beds, but because of a lack of staff. In other words, if there aren’t enough nurses or medical technicians of the right sort on duty, the hospital simply has to limit patient numbers. It’s a matter of safety.

That, of course, leads to the obvious question: Why aren’t there enough nurses or whatever? If they can’t keep enough nurses, shouldn’t they just pay more? Isn’t labor just a supply-and-demand issue?

Well, of course it is, and hospital officials acknowledge that, too. To his credit, local hospital president Bob Copple is transparent about the problem and its roots. He points out that the hospital has raised pay for the staff in question, but even that can’t solve everything. Part of it is a lack of people in those fields — and he points out that other hospitals in Salina, Topeka, Wichita and even Kansas City face the same problems.

We’ve long believed that the local hospital provides excellent service, and there’s no reason to assume any different now. We figure the local leaders will figure their way through this problem. That’s not to say that the problem won’t continue, and it’s certainly not to suggest that all patients will remain here for their care. Patients with unique needs have been sent off to bigger-city hospitals for many years, and we can all understand and accept that.

We have a very simple suggestion in the meantime: Rather than telling patients that they’re being transferred because the hospital is “full,” or that there “aren’t any beds,” we’d suggest being straight-up about it: Acknowledge that the transfer is happening because the hospital is short-staffed.

That will avoid misunderstandings and feelings of deception. Certainly it will make for uncomfortable and difficult conversations with patients and their families, but, as hospital officials are willing to admit, it is what it is.

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