Emergency room facilities struggling to stay open during COVID-19

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Hospitals in central Texas are about 45% full as of April 23, and there are 165 open ICU beds.

Earlier this week, hospitals got the go-ahead to start performing a limited number of non-emergency surgeries. For financially struggling hospitals, at least it’s a start.

It’s a good thing that overflow centers and makeshift hospitals set up across the state for COVID-19 patients may not be necessary — but there’s another side to the story.

In Austin, health care facilities fully devoted to fighting the pandemic have not seen a surge, which means many doctors and nurses are working fewer hours and getting smaller paychecks.

A local emergency room nurse emailed KXAN saying:

“When this first started, our emergency room was crazy. We reorganized it to prepare for COVID patients, invested in a mountain of PPE…but nothing happened. Patient volume is down 70%. Nurses and doctors are being cancelled constantly and not getting paid. I fear my facility won’t make it much longer.”

Serena Bumpus, practice director with the Texas Association of Nurses, says it’s the result of the community following stay-at-home orders.

“hey are not going to the hospital unless they have to,” says Bumpus. “They are accessing their primary care physicians, they are using those other resources to keep them out of the hospital.”

Bumpus says freestanding emergency rooms have taken the hardest hit.

A quick check online shows short wait times at freestanding ERs. FastMed Urgent Care locations have had zero or one patient in line all day.

“In our company, one of our biggest focuses — from our CEO down — has been trying to keep the people that are on the front lines with their paychecks, with their income coming in. But it’s certainly a struggle,” says Megan Fox, Area Medical Manger at FastMed Urgent Care.

It’s balancing act: health care facilities trying to stay open and keep their staff.

Bumpus says getting hospitals back to normal too quickly could set us back with slowing the spread, so it should be a slow process.

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