AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Amarillo hospitals are once again running low on staff members to care for the area’s growing number of COVID-19 patients.
Amarillo hospital leaders provided an update on their capacity and staffing issues during the City of Amarillo’s COVID-19 briefing on the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 8. Meanwhile, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported the 25-county area’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate remained above 20% for a second day.
Not only are Northwest Texas Hospital and BSA Hospital seeing more COVID patients as this surge continues, they also do not have enough staff. That includes nurses and physicians.
“I’m panicked. I’m actually very concerned about what I’m seeing in terms of our healthcare system overall,” said Dr. Brian Weis, NWTH’s chief medical officer. “I have never seen the system so much on the brink of collapse as we’re seeing, especially locally here.”
Dr. Weis said in many of their units, NWTH has half of their nursing spots open.
“A lot of our units are desperately trying to bring in travelers, but most of the nurse traveler agencies have no nurses to offer us,” said Dr. Weis. “So we’ve seen just a really just a loss of nurses from the healthcare system overall, many of them just being fed up with trying to deal with, you know, the harshness of their job.”
Dr. Weis continued, “I expect that probably after January 1, we’ll be able to bring in a significant number of nurses but from here to there, there’s a problem. We’re just not finding many nurses that want to start right now and have to work through the holidays.”
At BSA, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Lamanteer said they are working to bring in more contract nurses to keep beds open to handle the maximum number of patients possible.
Dr. Lamanteer said BSA is also getting support from the Regional Advisory Council and the state to bring in an adequate number of nurses and respiratory therapists.
However, both hospitals also need doctors at this point.
“We also are working to try to get some additional locums physicians,” said Dr. Lamanteer. “That’s been difficult, but we’ve been able to get some of those and we’re also now requesting some physician support from the RAC.”
Dr. Weis said NWTH is also considering using telehealth measures to meet demand.
“We only have so many critical care doctors and they’re exhausted and worn out,” said Dr. Weis. “The question is can we use telemedicine for consults on critical care patients? You know, just to help again, broaden the coverage for these very sick patients. So I’d say that no option is off the table right now.”
In the meantime, Dr. Lamanteer said BSA is doubling its occupancy in the Med Surg unit.
“We’ve had to do some of those double-ups because of again, trying to conserve nursing staff and appropriate ratios and also have enough beds with COVID patients harbored in specific units so they’re not scattered all over the hospital,” Dr. Lamanteer said.
Dr. Weis said NWTH is not doubling up on beds, even though they have available beds and rooms.
“We just don’t have staff to take care of patients in those beds. So, we have some of our units that look half-empty because we just don’t have the staff to accommodate those patients,” he said.
In addition to staff shortages, Dr. Weis said supply chain issues are causing issues as well.
Dr. Weis added, “A lot of the shipments we look forward to in terms of our equipment are just coming in inconsistently. So, that adds to the frustration as we’re trying to make do with some of the supplies we get. So, for all these reasons why I would say is now is not a good time to get sick or injured and require hospitalization.”
Vaccinations remain the best way to avoid further hospitalizations, Dr. Lamanteer said.
“When you look at patients that are being hospitalized, those stats are undeniable. Vaccination prevents severe disease, it prevents folks from dying from COVID. It prevents hospitalizations, and the boosters are critical,” said Dr. Lamanteer.