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As COVID-19 Pushes Hospitals Near Capacity, Texas Health CEO Says The Public Can Help Ease The Strain

Two surgeons at work in an operating room beside an I-V bag of fluid.
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Two surgeons in an operating room.

The arrival of COVID-19 vaccine came as welcome news for health care workers first in line to get the shots. But they’re still contending with a worsening coronavirus surge.

KERA’s Sam Baker talked with CEO Barclay Berdan about how Texas Health Resources is handling this health crisis.

The arrival of COVID-19 vaccine came as welcome news for health care workers first in line to get the shots. But they’re still contending with a worsening coronavirus surge.

KERA’s Sam Baker talked with CEO Barclay Berdan about how Texas Health Resources is handling this health crisis.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On Current Hospital Capacity

Well, about a third of our beds are filled with patients that are COVID positive. We're at the highest levels that we've ever seen in Texas health resources, hospitals. And we're really at the limit right now for staff. We need nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, lab techs, and we've been working hard to fill open positions.

On The Cause Of The Increased Cases

I think across North Texas, we're experiencing what I believe is the outcome of the Thanksgiving holiday and shopping right now. And that has birthed the spread of the virus. I have concerns that as we move into Hanukkah, Christmas Kwanzaa, New Year’s, we may see some of the same fueling of the spread of the virus. So we may still not be at our peak of hospitalized patients.

On Why THR Can’t Bring In Staff From Other Hospitals

The problem we have is affecting the entire nation. The numbers are up everywhere. We're at this going on 10 months now, and people are tired.

We're also experiencing some employees who are getting infected in their interactions in the community. So that means they're out of commission for a number of weeks while they recover.

THR’s Plan To Manage Those Issues

We can reallocate resources as they're needed. We have a staff, we can open up to some additional beds for the last week or so.

We've been working with surgeons who have non-urgent surgeries and asking them to kind of space out their scheduled cases for a week or two.

So we've been trying to control the input into the hospital,
to the extent we can, but we're still open for our emergency rooms. And we still have people coming in that have strokes and heart attacks and other issues. So we continue to manage all that.

What About Your Prediction Of Running Out of ICU Beds Soon?

We’ve avoided it for now. I do have a couple of hospitals that have reached capacity, but we’ve been able to shift resources around to keep some of those beds open.

But as the infection rate, the growth rate, is inching up and the farther it goes up, the more demand we'll have on those beds.

And If You Run Out Of ICU Beds?

First, look at can we move patients around within our system. If we don't have that availability, there are other systems. And we begin to move between systems. Once we get past that, we may have to move patients to locations that may have some beds available that are out of town. We may have to eliminate non-urgent surgeries as well, at least postpone those for a period of time.

How The Public Can Help

Research that UT Southwestern has published would indicate about a 10% increase in people wearing a mask, staying out of crowds, staying a safe distance from people, washing your hands frequently will really have a damping down effect on the growth of infections.

RESOURCES:

The Impact Of The COVID-19 Pandemic On Hospital Admissions In The United States

The Effect of COVID-19 on Hospital Financial Health

First COVID-19 vaccines arrive at Methodist Dallas Medical Center

Texas healthcare workers are slammed. They need your help containing coronavirus

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at sbaker@kera.org. You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

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