The state is stepping up resources to help hospitals struggling with a surge of COVID-19 patients.
Texas is using federal COVID relief funding to help hospitals recruit medical staff in short supply.
Infusion centers are also being set up for those sick with the virus, but not sick enough to be hospitalized.
Dallas County’s public hospital, Parkland, is among the hospitals requesting help.
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Parkland reports the number of hospitalized patients is back to pre-pandemic levels, plus an increasing number of COVID-19 patients.
“Today, we’re up to almost 120 active COVID patients,” said Chief Medical Officer at Parkland Hospital, Dr. Joseph Chang. “Which is 20 more than it was just on Saturday, which is 20 more than it was just on Thursday. The rise of COVID numbers is dramatic and it’s accelerating if that’s possible. Our hospital is pretty much bursting at the seams.”
Making matters worse, exhausted frontline workers are in short supply.
“It’s terrible. In a word, it is terrible for our staff,” Chang said. “We have 470 full-time positions open in the nursing ranks. 470. It’s an astonishing number.”
The typical number of open positions would be a few dozen, he said.
Hospitals across the state are sounding the alarm on an increasing number of COVID hospitalizations along with staffing shortages.
The Texas Department of State Health Services is stepping in to help.
The department is helping struggling hospitals and their staffing agencies recruit medical staff, including nurses and respiratory therapists.
The goal is to recruit approximately 2,400 medical staff members.
“It’ll be in the next few days, I think we’ll start to see people arrive,” said Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the department.
Van Deusen says the state does not know where staff will be coming from and what areas they will be deployed to, including what North Texas hospitals can expect help.
“Our preference is that those folks come from outside the state and we have directed them not to take people who are already working in Texas facility and just re-assign them. Obviously, we want people who are working, to keep doing that.”
The shortage of caregivers during a pandemic will no doubt impact anyone in need of hospitalization, Van Deusen said.
“Whether it’s a car accident or a heart attack, you name it,” he said. “Any kind of trauma or anything else that could end with someone in the hospital. If those beds are full with COVID-19 patients, it’s going to have an impact on them as well.”
Expectant mothers are not immune to the shortage.
“It is almost unfathomable that we would turn away or send away pregnant patients,” Chang said.
But Parkland, one of the busiest maternity wards in the country, has had to transfer some expectant mothers to other hospitals for care.
Chang says the hospital has declared ‘an internal disaster.’
Nurses have been asked to increase the number of patients they treat.
The hospital is allowing support staff to help RNs with tasks that do not require specialized nursing skills and training.
“We’ve had to stop some surgeries. We’ve had to refuse transfers that we would normally be able to take. It’s just a bad situation,” said Chang.
Chang says recruiting nurses has become almost impossible to keep up with amid ‘bidding wars’ between hospitals for staff, including ‘traveling’ nurses.
“A typical traveling agency nurse used to cost around $60 an hour,” he said. “My colleague from Harris Health reported in a public hearing the other day in Austin that he’s getting requests from nurses for $268 an hour. You can imagine that kind of increase makes it incredibly difficult to keep up.”
Chang says Parkland requested help from the state as soon as they were able to.
“We’re waiting to see what happens and the more we can get the better,” said Chang.
The Texas Department of State Health Services is also searching for locations in need of ‘infusion centers.’
These pop-up centers will be for patients with the coronavirus who are not yet in need of hospitalization.
“It’s for specific people,” said Van Deusen. “If you’re an older adult, have an underlying health condition something like that, and you get COVID-19 and you don’t need to be hospitalized yet, the goal is to start this treatment so that it can stop the disease from progressing and you won’t then need to end up in the hospital.”
Patients will need a referral from a doctor or medical facility.
They will receive one-hour monoclonal antibody IV therapy.
A location in North Texas has not yet been selected.
Officials have selected San Antonio’s Freeman Coliseum for an infusion center.