Patients waiting for beds in Houston hospitals are actually waiting for enough staff to treat them

Saturday, July 11, 2020
Texas Medical Center patients waiting for enough staff, not beds
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Hundreds of patients have been waiting for beds at hospitals in Houston this week, but Texas Medical Center CEO said beds weren't the problem. Press play for the full story.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Hundreds of patients inside Houston hospitals were left waiting for beds for the second day in a row.

Ten hospitals in the area reported about 200 people who were waiting for a bed on Friday morning, even though hospitals have been saying for weeks they do have the capacity to help more people.

Earlier in the year, hospitals in other places in the U.S. that were a hot spot for COVID-19 saw similar instances where the amount of people who needed treatment was greater than the amount of beds available. Now, as the number of cases in Houston and Harris County start to hit record highs, hospitals in the area could face similar problems.

ABC13 spoke with Bill McKeon, CEO of Texas Medical Center (TMC), who said they aren't low on beds but low on staff members needed to treat the patients.

"It is the number of staffing with the right expertise, personal protection equipment. Those are the two key things for us to further expand," McKeon said. "So every day, our hospitals are looking at the demand, and when you get huge numbers of people coming through our doors at once, you will see delays, you will see waiting. It's not a perfect environment where you can go from one bed to an additional 300 beds overnight."

WATCH: Bill McKeon, CEO of Texas Medical Center (TMC), describes the response to COVID-19 as cases spike.

Months ago, TMC created a surge plan which included beds and staffing, but there have still been challenges. As hospitalizations increased, hospitals began to add or convert beds. Now that the base beds are all in use, they're in phase two of their surge.

SEE ALSO: Houston hospitals are increasingly turning away new patients as coronavirus overwhelms emergency rooms

"When our people are out in the community, and they also get infected, they can no longer perform their duties in the hospitals," said McKeon. "This is traditional in any areas where you see a surge capacity. You're going to see an impact on our frontline workers."

McKeon said they are working to bring in staff from across the country to address the issue.

"So, when we think about beds, it's not just the number that we have every day," McKeon said. "You need to separate out the physical bed from the bed, the technology and the staff to really manage that bed. We've got physical capacity, but nursing and staffing will always be a constant challenge, particularly at a time when we're seeing these numbers fly way off the charts. Now, we're in the top two or three states looking at this massive surge."

There has been a sharp increase in hospitalizations since Memorial Day. Then, 630 people went to the hospital for COVID-like symptoms. On Tuesday, 2,200 went to the hospital.

"The hospitals are already losing hundreds of millions of dollars throughout this process. So, they're trying to keep their businesses alive and, at the same time, manage the demand of the community. And that's why when you hear about waiting in emergency rooms, it's not about physical beds. It is, 'do we have the proper staffing?'" McKeon said.

He said if people come in for treatment, they will get a bed. In some cases, people may have to wait though.

"Will they be treated? Absolutely. Will they be treated by some of the top people in the world? Absolutely," McKeon said. "Depending on where they show up, there may be delay because of the large volume. We process them as quickly as we can."

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