Facing looming capacity, Austin hospitals prepare for overcrowding of COVID-19 patients


AUSTIN (KXAN) — By executive order, Governor Abbott will allow more hospitals in Texas to open, thereby freeing up bed space for the ongoing rise of COVID-19 patients.

On Wednesday, the Governor temporarily waived certain licensing rules for facilities that have pending licenses or facilities that have closed within the past three years.

“There are healthcare facilities across the state that have either recently closed or have yet to receive a license, but are otherwise ideal locations to aid in our COVID-19 response,” Governor Abbott said. “By waiving these rules, we can quickly bring many of these facilities online to help Texas communities maximize their hospital capacity and provide care to Texans in need.”

This announcement comes at a time when Austin city leaders were already conemplating ways to allow more patients to be treated.

In a virtual interview Wednesday morning, Mayor Steve Adler suggested filling Auditorium Shores with medical tents.

“The 20,000 beds that we have to find, I mean, you’re starting to take over hotels, we could have tents on Auditorium shores,” the mayor said. “The city and the county and the area and the region have contingency plans to be able to build out to be finite. I mean, we’re going to do that but it’s not going to be pretty and it’s not going to be as effective at saving people.”

City staff said there is a 4,000 bed capacity in Austin. Specific sites are being considered to convert pre-existing buildings into temporary medical shelters.

“Governor Abbott has directed HHSC to waive certain regulatory requirements regarding facility license renewals. These waivers will allow general, special, and psychiatric hospitals, free-standing emergency medical facilities, and end-stage renal facilities to renew their license without submitting a fire marshal’s report.”

Governor Greg Abbott Press Office

There are several shut-down hospitals in Central Texas that may be utilized by the Governor’s new action.

In December 2018, Little River Healthcare, a hospital in Rockdale, Texas, went bankrupt. The board of the hospital connected with the state last week to inform them of their ability and willingness to reopen.

The hospital has 14 fully remodeled rooms, a full stocked kitchen, beds in twenty rooms plus a five-bed emergency room.

“We have it here, we would need some help to get it up and going, but we are ready to help if that is what is needed,” said Troy Zinn, the former Chief Operating Officer of the hospital.

Granted, it would take some time to get Little River Healthcare up-and-running. There is no oxygen flowing through the walls for patients, previously-hired staff have moved away and the rooms would require a deep sanitation, Zinn said.

“We are just willing to help and do whatever we can to help the communities around us get through this crisis,” Zinn said.

Professional physicians said that this is a logical next-step in the ongoing Coronavirus crisis.

“It’s what we have to do. We don’t want to do this, but we may have to,” said Dr. David Fleeger with the Texas Medical Association. “The governor has given us the ability to do this should we reach capacity. Should our system be strained, we have gotten a little bit more room in which to expand.”

The Texas Emergency Care Center also reports there are more than 200 freestanding emergency rooms across Texas ready to provide more than 1,500 beds, if needed.

A Message from your Austin Hospitals

We are pleased local leaders have issued a ‘shelter in place’ order, as it is the best defense we have for preventing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting our community and healthcare workers during this unprecedented pandemic.

Many people have asked what they can do to ease capacity demands on hospitals and lessen the impact to healthcare workers on the frontlines. The single most important thing the community can do to help is to follow orders from local leaders and stay home, keeping a distance of at least six feet from people outside your household. But in order for it to work, everyone must comply.

Collectively we will do what it takes to meet the needs of this community. The situation continues to evolve each day, and we will adapt, as necessary, but we need your help in order to have a fighting chance at overcoming this pandemic. The sooner we act, the safer our community will be.

Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David’s HealthCare

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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