Tarrant County

Ambulances Transfer Some Fort Worth COVID-19 Patients to ‘Outlying Hospitals' Because of Surge

Healthcare system implementing emergency plan to deal with spike in patients

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With critical care beds filling up fast, Fort Worth-based Medstar confirms its ambulances are now moving patients from crowded hospitals near downtown to less-crowded “outlying” hospitals.

"This is part of our surge strategy,” Medstar spokesman Matt Zavadsky said.

It’s a long-planned strategy that hasn't needed to be put into place -- until now.

"Hospital capacity is the highest it's been since the start of the pandemic,” Zavadsky said. “We're also going into flu season which generally brings more patients to the hospital as well."

Intensive-care beds in Tarrant County were 92% full, the county's public health director said Tuesday.

Medstar has seen its COVID-19 calls shoot up from an average of 49 per day in September to 65 per day this month. On Monday, the number was 76.

"So this spike is very concerning,” Zavadsky said.

The top executive at JPS Hospital told county commissioners the medical system was bracing for the worst.

"Our challenge is going to be like everybody else's, it’s staffing," Robert Earley said.

Health officials said Tarrant County was second in growing cases only to El Paso, where big refrigerated trucks have been brought in as temporary morgues and inmates are helping move the bodies.

"I would think it's like being in the ring with a heavy weight boxer and when you walk into the ring, you get punched in the nose,” Earley said. “You're not real excited for round number two."

In Tarrant County, the question is how many more rounds the health care system can withstand.

"I'm really concerned we're beginning to see that spike that will continue beyond the holidays into after the first of the year,” Zavadsky said.

Two of three major hospitals in central Fort Worth were tightlipped about the surge and the transfer of patients.

Diana Brodeur, vice president of communications for JPS, said that the hospital hadn’t transferred any COVID-19 patients.

But Stephen O’Brien, public relations director for Texas Health, which runs Harris Methodist hospital near downtown, declined to say whether or not that facility had transferred any patients.

Jennifer McDowell, a spokeswoman for Baylor Scott & White also declined comment.

Both Baylor Scott & White and Texas Health referred questions to the DFW Hospital Council.

A council spokesman, Chris Wilson, did not return calls and a text message seeking information.

*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.

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