‘There just aren’t beds ready’: Austin doctors describe influx of COVID-19 patients, prepare for alternate care site

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin and Travis County have started the process to open the Alternate Care Site at the Austin Convention Center.

The facility was first set up over the summer during the area’s first major COVID-19 surge but has not yet taken any patients.

Now, health officials say this second surge could overwhelm the system.

“You… will treat a patient and you don’t have the family in the room with them,” says Dr. Ernest Kahn. “It’s hard at times just to walk into the room and see them isolated.”

He and other doctors with the Hospital Internists of Texas have been helping local healthcare systems, like St. David’s and Ascension Seton, keep up with COVID-19 patients.

“We’ve had to deal with even the family members of our colleagues, and those ones absolutely stick with you,” says Dr. David Frederick another member of Hospital Internists of Texas.

Now, the group’s 70 providers have been notified that they may be needed to help staff Austin-Travis County’s ACS.

“Essentially everyone in our group is already signed up and ready to help out,” Frederick says.

“We’re kind of just trying to be ready to fill in the gaps everywhere needed,” says Kahn, who expects specific shift assignments next week.

Saturday, health officials announced they’re beginning activation because they “believe it is inevitible” that the local healthcare system will soon exceed capacity.

It’s something these doctors are already witnessing as they care for COVID-19 patients.

“Initially we were seeing maybe one a day, or one every other day. Within this last week it was multiple new patients, at an increasingly alarming rate, to be admitted back into the hospital,” Dr. Frederick says.

The city and county are also working with the state to coordinate 24-hour staffing at the site, which would be used for patients who need a lower level of care to help keep hospital beds open for intensive care.

“A lot of COVID patients are having to wait in the emergency room partly because there just aren’t beds ready,” Dr. Kahn says.

Earlier this week, the Travis County Medical Society put out a call for more physicians to help local hospital staff.

Saturday, they tell KXAN at least 50 doctors have signed up to help provide inpatient care. The group’s president says they are now going through an onboarding process.

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