AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — As staffing issues at Amarillo hospitals worsen, hospital leaders are struggling with tough choices about how to care for the growing number of patients.
Northwest Texas Hospital said on Wednesday that 77 staff members were in quarantine for COVID-19, twice the amount in quarantine on January 3, 2022.
At BSA Hospital, 80 staff members were in quarantine on Wednesday.
As the number of new COVID-19 cases increases in the surrounding, fewer staff members mean fewer available beds.
Dr. Brian Weis, the chief medical officer at NWTH, said on Wednesday they have been diverting patients for more than a month as they do not have the capacity to accept patients from outside.
“This morning, we have 13 patients in our emergency room that were holding for beds. That’s consistent. We’re always in double digits,” said Dr. Weis. “And we know that there are 43 patients out in the region who are waiting to get to a higher level of care, namely us the VA or a BSA. Of those 43 in the region, half of them are people who are suffering from COVID right now.”
The same problem is evident at BSA.
“We have all these ER holds. That means those are 18 people at BSA this morning that were admitted but had to sit in the ER because we didn’t have a bed upstairs,” said Dr. Michael Lamanteer, BSA’s chief medical officer.
He continued, “And then the ER nurses are the ones trying to manage those cases, and the ER nurses are not equipped always with the support staff and the things they need to be able to do that well, and that is the difficult part. That’s what’s causing folks to burn out. It’s causing folks to really say we need more help and they’re exactly right.”
According to Dr. Weis, Amarillo hospitals only have three sources for staff members, the Panhandle Regional Advisory Council (RAC), private agencies, and FEMA.
Dr. Lamanteer said BSA has 105 travel nurses hired to help cover shifts and critical units. They also have 58 staff members from the RAC.
“So you can see how that significant number of additional staff beyond our core staff is necessary now to keep open our beds and continue to manage the number of patients that we’re seeing on a daily basis,” Dr. Lamanteer continued.
Dr. Weis said NWTH has about 45 traveling nurses coming through the RAC because so many staff are out in isolation.
“We’ve actually made an appeal to FEMA at the federal level for what they call a strike team, which are teams of typically about 25 individuals that include nurses, doctors, and RTs.”
However, Dr. Weis said the RAC is limited on further staffing, and even private agencies are largely tapped out.
At this point, BSA is delaying and postponing some surgical procedures.
“If there are surgical cases that are not emergent or urgent, there is an assessment being done on a weekly and daily basis,” Dr. Lamanteer added. “I’m talking to many of our surgeons, so is our surgical leadership or our nursing leadership to ask whether or not a case can be postponed.”
Dr. Lamanteer said the reason for putting off some procedures is BSA does not have the ICU beds or the general med surge beds to manage all of the elective surgical case volumes.
Both hospitals are prepared to adjust staff for COVID care.
“We have not done that yet at BSA but certainly that would be a possibility if we got more taxed in terms of not having enough staff, and we did not get more help from the state or elsewhere,” said Dr. Lamanteer.