Patients waiting hours for beds as hospitals max out capacity

Tuesday, August 10, 2021
Patients waiting hours for beds as hospitals max out capacity
The COVID resurgence has pushed hospitals to the limits, setting off a chain reaction that is impacting patients who need emergency care outside of the virus. And in one instance, one patient had to wait five-and-a-half hours.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As hospitalizations continue to increase, the Houston area is seeing a real impact on wait times at emergency rooms.

In fact, ABC13 found hundreds of patients have been admitted to the hospital but were left waiting for a bed.

According to the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council (SETRAC), in a 25-county region in southeast Texas, 469 patients were admitted to the hospital on Sunday, but didn't have a general bed.

There were also 53 ICU patients who were admitted, but they also didn't have a bed immediately available.

This has since caused a ripple effect throughout hospital systems. They're so full that in some cases, ambulances are holding patients until there is a room available.

READ ALSO: Houston ICUs 'like a war zone' amid COVID surge, doctor says

One doctor is describing to Eyewitness News the "sadness" seen at all ICUs across Houston. He says the tragedy stems from how preventable scenes like these could have been.

"It's almost to the point where it's crippling, and we're going to see this as an increase in response times to medical calls," said Houston Fire Department Chief Samuel Pena.

He said in one case, a patient was left waiting for five and a half hours on a stretcher, inside an ambulance just waiting for a bed.

"That's an egregious incident. It doesn't serve our patients well. It doesn't serve our EMTs well," said Pena.

The chief said it's taking about 10% longer to transfer patients from the ambulance to the hospital.

"The downstream effect that it causes is significant," he said. "A 5-, 10-, 15-minute delay, or an additional delay, in transferring a patient means that unit is not available to service the next emergency call. So what happens is when the next call comes, the ambulance that's responding to those new calls are coming from further away."

On top of that, HFD has seen a 20% increase in call volume over the past couple of months. Still, hospitals say if you have an emergency, you will get care.

Ben Taub Hospital is one of the areas level one trauma centers, which means they treat patients in serious trauma emergencies such as shootings and car crashes.

Chief of staff Dr. Sandeep Markan said while COVID-19 patients are keeping the ICU busy, they are taking care of patients in trauma situations. He said the previous surges gave them the experience to handle this one.

"We had to come up with ingenious mechanisms of PPE and protocols and people masking up appropriately and that learning curve, as you remember, last year was very steep," said Markan. "So at this point, we have a substantial familiarity and are able to provide high-level trauma care."

Then there's the nursing shortage that's being felt across the community.

Ben Taub Hospital has reduced staff at two clinics. That staff is being used at both Harris Health System hospitals, which includes LBJ Hospital.

Nurses are also working overtime and picking up shifts.

"We have reallocated nurses throughout the system to meet the high demand and complex needs of our patients," said Toni Cotton, the chief nursing officer at Ben Taub Hospital. "We've just done whatever we've had to do to prioritize and take care of our sickest patients."

Pena said the way to reduce the level of hospitalizations is through vaccinations, which he believes will benefit the entire community.

For updates on this report, follow ABC13 reporter Marla Carter on Facebook,Twitter and Instagram.