‘They’re just overwhelmed:’ Family worried about hospital care as ICUs fill

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Leah Douglas, whose dad was admitted to a hospital in Austin roughly two weeks ago, says she’s worried about the level of care he is getting as hospitals struggle with staff shortages and capacity limits.

“I have no doubt that the nurses and the doctors are extremely competent. They’re just overwhelmed,” Douglas said.

Douglas brought her dad to the emergency room on July 27 after he woke up confused and was having difficulty with his legs. She thought he might be having a stroke.

“We had no idea at the time that he was COVID positive or had been exposed even,” she said.

Douglas says her dad, who is not vaccinated, was put in an isolation room guarded by yellow tape. She claims doctors told her they did not have room in the ICU.

As hospitalizations for COVID-19 continue to rise, health leaders have been warning for weeks that staffed ICU beds are in short supply. They’ve asked the community to get vaccinated and return to mask-wearing to help with the surge.

In a joint meeting with Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioners last week, Dr. Desmar Walkes, the local health authority, said area hospitals were already going into what’s called “diversion” mode. That means the hospital has to ask EMS to take patients elsewhere.

“It’s a bottleneck,” Dr. Walkes described it.

Dr. Walkes also said in that meeting that the Austin-Travis County area has adopted a mass casualty care plan to prioritize patients based on severity and resources available, should we hit a point where hospitals area-wide are over capacity, and patients cannot be transferred.

KXAN has requested that plan from APH, and from individual local hospitals, and will update this article when that information is provided.

We have previously reported that the Austin Convention Center could turn into an alternate hospital to take in patients who need critical care. It was not clear how that facility would be staffed.

Austin Public Health did tell KXAN that the combination of staff shortages and increased ICU cases are “really pushing the system right now.” They added that hospitals in other areas are just as full.

“This is a growing concern of what happens when hospitals can’t accept transfer patients,” a spokesperson for APH said.

Data from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services shows there were more than 800 ICU beds available statewide a month ago. As of the latest update, there are now 394. Census data shows the population of Texas is almost 29 million people.

In Austin’s 11 county hospital region, the latest number of ICU beds available was six. The Houston region has 42.

Harris Health told our sister station in Houston Monday that Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital’s ICU is full as of 10 a.m. Tents can be seen outside of their facility, and the hospital said they will be used to treat COVID-19 patients, though those tents are not operational yet.

As of Monday, the Austin-metro area broke the record for the number of people in the ICU at 191, a record 116 people are on ventilators.

Medical professionals are begging residents to get vaccinated and follow COVID-19 guidelines to help with the surge of cases.

“I can’t even explain to another person who is not in the hospital with us, what it is like to call families of our COVID patients, and listen to their cries,” Anna Vu-Wallace, an internal medicine hospitalist said. “[Some] have had to treat patients in the waiting room…it’s like being at war. It’s really like being at war.”

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