‘Our system is so overwhelmed’: How Austin hospitalizations are impacting rural communities


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Local health leaders say this week they didn’t have enough room to accommodate people from surrounding counties. In a media briefing Friday, they explained how the dire situation in Austin hospitals and ICUs is having a far-reaching impact on rural communities.

“We have patients in our surrounding counties who are starting to have to wait to be transferred for routine medical care,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority. “We had over 20 folks waiting to transfer in to Austin-Travis County for care. Five of those were COVID patients and the rest were people who needed help with things like strokes and heart attacks.”

People in Fayette County are feeling the impact of that wait. The Emergency Medical Services chief tells KXAN calls went up by 35% so far this month, but staff has nowhere to take patients who require critical care. He posted this plea on Facebook.

Message from Fayette County EMS chief describing how the pandemic is affecting hospitals in the area (via Facebook)
Message from Fayette County EMS chief describing how the pandemic is affecting hospitals in the area (via Facebook)

Carrie Kroll of the Texas Hospital Association says with fewer resources, many rural hospitals are also using emergency departments as ICUs.

“There are certainly cancer patients who have (come) in the emergency room that have been unable to get a higher level of care,” Kroll said. “We’ve certainly seen children with appendicitis where their appendix bursts in the timeframe that they’ve had to wait.”

Kroll says many rural hospitals are also dealing with staffing issues which also contributes to the problems.

“Staffing agencies have created this demand at a cost level that’s unsustainable long term for hospitals, just to keep staff at a basic level,” Kroll explained. “Long term, we’ll need to look more into our infrastructure and what we can do to support staff so that we don’t find ourselves in this situation in the future.”

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