AUSTIN (KXAN) — Major hospital systems in the Austin area are making plans to deal with an increasing number of COVID-19 patients. KXAN got a copy of an internal memo sent to staff at St. David’s HealthCare hospitals.
In it, the CEO says they’re facing a surge even more challenging than the one over the summer and are offering financial incentives for staff to take on more shifts.
He also urges staff to treat and discharge patients “as effectively and efficiently as possible.” The goal, he says, is to keep hospital beds and staff available as numbers rise.
Dr. Guadalupe Zamora, whose private practice partners with St. David’s, has seen the increase himself.
“Pre-COVID, we were sending one or two patients a month to the hospital… With COVID, we’re probably sending two or three a week to the hospital,” Zamora said.
He says he and other doctors have already been trying to keep patients at home for longer.
“I’ll call them daily to make sure that they’re doing well,” he said. “If they need anything — inhalers or nebulizer machines — I get it to them so that they’re stable, and we can keep them at home. Even if we have to send oxygen out to them, we’ll do that as well.”
But Zamora is still keeping a pulse on hospital capacity: He has about 35 patients who are on the brink of needing it.
“Any one of those patients could get sicker, and I would need to refer them into the hospital to be admitted for infusions or a high dose of oxygen,” he said. “I need the ability to have that hospital available to me.”
Baylor Scott & White tells KXAN they’ve now got an external, temporary morgue on their property in case of more COVID-19 deaths.
Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White and St. David’s all say they can currently care for patients who need it at this time.
Impacts on funeral homes
Jason Harrell of Harrell Funeral Home says they’ve seen a 20% increase in the death rate between 2019 and 2020 — and even more so over the last three weeks.
“Our deaths related to COVID have increased, and I would say probably at a peak — more so than it was in July,” Harrell said.
Typically, he says summer months see demand wind down.
“There’s been no slow time this year,” he says.
The funeral home partner says staff is being stretched right now with greater workloads but so far, they are managing it without the need to increase capacity. But, he says, they do expect to help more families over the next few weeks.
“We would follow that trail as far as when hospitals reach capacity… We would be next in line. So, I would anticipate that we would see an increase in the coming weeks, as the hospital’s reach their capacity.”