COVID-19 surge staffing to remain at Memorial Hermann

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Hospitals remain very busy and low on staff, but some have come up with ways to track indicators of the virus to reduce challenges ahead.

SEE RELATED STORY: Houston health experts fear people will become complacent as COVID hospitalizations drop

"We are really busy, and certainly, we've seen the number of people presenting for hospitalization with COVID come down from our peak a few weeks ago," Dr. David Callender, the president and CEO of Memorial Hermann, said. "We still have a lot of patients in the hospital. Memorial Hermann has over 600 today who have COVID or are suspected of having COVID. So the numbers are still higher than we want them to be but lower than they were a few weeks ago."

Hospitals added staffing during the surge. While COVID hospitalizations have decreased, the additional staff still remains.

"There's pent up demand from patients who have had other problems, who have wanted to come in, who have been fearful about coming to our hospitals, or who just haven't been able to come, and so our ICUs are completely full. Our hospitals in general are full so we still need staff. We're maintaining a lot of those extra staffing positions that we've had, to work through the pent up demand and clearly, we're also concerned about, particularly with the beginning of school, another surge, and so we want to be prepared for that too, as we move forward," said Dr. Callender.

SEE RELATED STORY: How COVID-19 symptoms can alert doctors about severity of cases before it's too late

As far as dealing with the virus long-term, Dr. Callender said they have a number of plans based on various scenarios, like another surge. The focus, though, is getting the virus under control.

"Coronavirus is going to be with us for a while, there's no doubt, but we believe we can effectively control it even before we have a vaccine if we just use the right behaviors," he said.

He said that includes masking and social distancing. He credits Houston with making great strides but said the city still has some work to do.

The Texas Medical Center is tracking three indicators when it comes to the virus. It includes the number of new cases, the positivity rate and the transmission rate. The hope is by getting those under control, along with masking, Houston can return to a more normal lifestyle.

"We want to get the virus to where it's not so much of a challenge for us, to where we can get back to more of a normal life, normal lifestyle, move around more freely. The idea is, if we can achieve community control we can isolate those people who are infected. It makes it a little easier on the rest of us to resume more of a normal lifestyle," said Callender.

The pandemic has impacted health systems financially. The University of Texas Medical Branch announced it could be forced to lay off 200 staffers to get back on budget. Callender said Memorial Hermann has felt the impact but has a financial plan in place.

"COVID-19 has been a challenge for all hospitals and health systems, providers of health care. It certainly has disrupted the normal state for us. We've had our financial challenges. We've gotten some relief from the federal government too, were very grateful for that. It hasn't completely covered all of the losses," said Callender, "We do have what we call a financial resiliency plan. We've not had to eliminate positions, force people away and so right now, we don't see that on the horizon for us."

Follow Marla Carter on Facebook and Twitter.
Copyright © 2020 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.