AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — More COVID patients and staffing issues in Amarillo hospitals are leading to few beds available for new patients.
Health officials and hospital leaders called a joint emergency briefing Thursday morning, where the Amarillo Public Health Department announced the City of Amarillo’s COVID-19 status level was moved up to red, the highest level.
That move came after Potter and Randall Counties reported more than 300 positive COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the most cases in a single day since December 2020.
“We also see that the rate of rise is something that we haven’t seen locally throughout this pandemic,” Dr. Todd Bell, Amarillo’s Public Health Authority, said. “Our numbers are increasing. A lot of that seems to be due to the Delta variant of the COVID virus.”
At that briefing, Northwest Texas Healthcare System’s (NWTH) Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brian Weis, said he had heard concerns about health care system failure across the U.S. and it looked familiar.
“I’m worried it looks like what Northwest looks like right now. This morning, we started with 20 patients holding in our emergency room. There’s 20 patients who are sitting in our ED waiting for a bed to come available,” Dr. Weis said on Thursday. “The longest one has been there for 53 hours. Over two days, this person’s been waiting for a bed.”
Dr. Michael Lamanteer, the chief medical officer at BSA Health System, said they are facing the same issue.
“The people that come into our hospital and that need to be admitted, we have to tell them they have to wait in our ER to see if we get a bed opened up to bring you upstairs,” Dr. Lamanteer said. “That is not a good situation for anyone.”
The hold patients in the ER are not due to a lack of beds or space, but medical professionals to staff those beds. Dr. Weis said NWTH has entire wards empty because they cannot staff them.
“We lost a significant number of our staff over the last year and a half, and what does that result in? That has resulted in having to close entire units. We closed an ICU. We closed a Med Surg floor because we can’t staff it,” Dr. Weis said. “That’s why we have patients holding in the emergency room.”
“As I walked into our hospital again this morning, and I started talking with our nursing leaders, we were talking about how we had to shut down our intermediate nursing care unit this past week. That is a step-down ICU level,” Dr. Lamanteer said.
He continued, “We had 94 ICU patients at BSA. 94. That was because we were using units that historically have never been used as intensive care. We had to convert one of our cath labs to intensive care. We had to use a holding area as intensive care. How many of you want to come to the hospital with a need for intensive care services and you’re going to a sub-optimal unit? You’re in a unit that we don’t normally take care of you in. It’s a holding area.”
They said the strain on staff and resources is also because of more COVID patients taking up beds.
Dr. Weis said NWTH was down in the single digits for COVID patients in the hospital in the middle of the summer. Now, that number is quite a bit higher.
“We started August first with 26 patients with COVID in our hospital. We have almost doubled that in 11 days to almost 50 patients,” Dr. Weis said. “That is 50 beds that are now necessary for COVID patients that are not available for people having heart attacks, or strokes are coming in the traumatic injuries. That’s why patients are holding the emergency room.”
The lack of staffed beds is not only affecting NWTH and BSA, it is keeping patients at rural and regional hospitals from being transferred to Amarillo.
“Today there are 43 patients out in the region waiting for beds to come to Amarillo because we can’t take 43,” said Dr. Weis. “23 of those are patients need an ICU bed. We can’t take them. 17 of those patients are patients who have COVID that need an ICU bed, we can’t take them. So, everything we do as a community is affecting the entire region here.”
Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of State Health Services are deploying approximately 2,500 medical personnel across the state to mitigate this surge. Dr. Lamanteer said Amarillo hospitals have requested help, but have not been given any definitive timeline.
“We have put in requests, which we’ve been instructed to do regarding how many nursing staff we need, how many other staff like respiratory staff we need. We’ve submitted those requests, which is the process to do that, and now we have to wait for the state to determine what the allocation needs to be,” said Dr. Lamanteer, noting staffing needs all across Texas.
In the meantime, the hospital leaders are asking the public to stay safe, so they do not require hospitalization.
“Keep yourself safe, safe from COVID, but safe period because right now, our hospitals just don’t have the capacity to take care of anyone in an expedited way,” said Dr. Weis.
Dr. Lamanteer echoed those concerns saying, “Please don’t get on a motorcycle. Don’t have a trauma. Don’t have a heart attack because we’re going to be at a point where we can’t manage you. We don’t have the capacity right now at BSA to have 94 ICU patients. Why? We don’t have the nursing staff.”
Dr. Catherine Ewing, the nurse executive and associate director of patient care services at the Amarillo VA Health Care System, said on Thursday their hospital is facing the same struggles as community hospitals.
“This week on Monday, we expanded our beds in our intensive care unit. Within 20 hours, we were already on diverts because those beds were full—full with people who needed critical care, not simple illnesses, but very sick individuals,” said Dr. Ewing.
She said as of Wednesday, initial steps and progress of a star request were made, which would allow the Amarillo VA to begin its Fourth Mission act. That would allow the VA to open up to community partners.
“I can tell you that for the first round of the surge that occurred at the end of last year, we were able to help out quite a few of our very rural community hospitals who are holding patients in need of care,” Dr. Ewing said. “So we look forward to doing anything we can to support this.”
Dr. Bell pleaded with the public to take responsibility for this surge in cases, and the need to relieve pressure on our hospitals.
“At its most fundamental, public health is public. This is something that we don’t have a government agency that’s going to step in to get rid of this virus for us. We don’t have any technology that’s going to crop up, that is going to suddenly appear on the horizon that’s going to be able to change the tide of this surge of COVID. It’s going to be a public issue,” said Dr. Bell.
He continued, “We all have to be a part of this, knowing that we’re all at risk. All of us have family at risk. All of us have neighbors at risk. We all need to be part of the solution to being able to take care of this COVID surge. What is that solution? It’s things that you guys have already been told multiple times, you know, this, we’ve got to get vaccinated.”
Dr. Bell also encouraged a return to social distancing, masking, and good hygiene to prevent spreading the virus.