Parkland Hospital converted its surgical space into the main hub where doctors and nurses took care of critically ill COVID-19 patients in March.
Six months later, and the Tactical Care Unit, or TCU, is closing.
“Our TCU is actually closed so we don’t have any patients in the TCU anymore, we have patients in individual rooms, which is the ideal way of taking care of any patient regardless of COVID," said Dr. Joe Chang, chief medical officer at Parkland.
He said with the TCU closing, the hospital is expanding surgical services, which is the area of the hospital the coronavirus unit occupied.
"Even though we won't use the entire TCU for surgery, we’re going to reclaim part of it so we can start serving those patients a little bit better, and then knock on some wood, hopefully, don’t have to go back to the TCU at any time," Chang said.
Five weeks ago, during the peak in North Texas, healthcare workers at Parkland saw 190 patients at one point, compared to the recent numbers hovering around 30 to 40 patients, according to Chang.
“We kind of expect that we're going to bump along on a plateau for a little bit here, and then we’ll see as flu season starts as everyone gets back to school and all these sorts of other factors come to play where that goes, but as of right now things are looking pretty good," Chang said.
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He said they recently reflected on the hard work and teamwork put into not only caring for the patients but changing the space into a COVID-19 unit.
Chang said the TCU was great for doctors and nurses caring for many patients at the same time in the same place. Chang said it was also helpful with conserving personal protective equipment at a time when supplies were low.
"We didn’t know anything about COVID when all of this hit, so really the TCU was a response to some of that unknown concerning PPE and keeping people safe in sort of this 'red box' area that everyone affectionately started to call our TCU," Chang explained. “But now, as we know more and more about the disease, we have a much better supply of testing and PPE, it allows us to take care of patients in a more traditional way.”
Parkland converted five different wards in the hospital to be COVID-19 specific. Chang said it was, "quite the undertaking" to transform the spaces into negative pressure areas and adding medical oxygen and gas access to certain places for different treatments.
He said if they have to adapt to an increase in numbers, they can, but for right now the TCU remains closed.
The president and CEO of the Dallas Fort Worth Hospital Council, Stephen Love, said he believed the recent drop in numbers across North Texas was due to people wearing masks, social distancing and listening to public officials.
But Love said he warned people from dropping their guard.
“However, we’ve hit a plateau, in fact the last couple of days we’ve actually increased our COVID-19 census in the DFW area in our hospitals," Love said. "We’ve got about 825 patients currently in hospitals and trauma service areas, that represents about 7.5% of the patients in the hospital. To give you a frame of reference, that was just about where we were the first week of June coming off of Memorial Day, so we’re almost in a parallel situation. So let's hope Labor Day and going back to school does not increase this."
Chang said in the meantime, while numbers remain low compared to over the summer, he's urging healthcare workers at Parkland who cared for coronavirus patients to take a break.
"The other thing we’re doing now is tell people ‘Hey, take some vacation," Chang said. "Really strongly advocating for folks to take some time off, and real time off, not like time off where you're still on your email and stuff, but really get away.”
Now his main concern is the flu season and how that will look in the year of COVID-19.
"Please, if there is a year you will choose in your entire life to get the flu vaccine, this is the year," Chang said. "God forbid anyone gets flu and COVID at the same time, I don’t even know what that looks like, we, fortunately, haven’t seen that yet, it’s certainly possible and you don’t want that to be you. Continue to wear masks, wash your hands, the same things that protect you from COVID will protect you from the flu.”