Hospital officials working on ways to improve COVID-19 transfer system

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Last month, some COVID-19 patients at free-standing emergency rooms and rural hospitals, were waiting up to eight hours to get transferred. The patients were very sick and needed additional care, but the hospitals all said they were too full to take the patients.

"We would just continue to call. We would put patients on a waiting list," said Lori Upton, vice president of preparedness and response operations at SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council.

The hospitals in rural counties don't have the ability to surge like larger hospitals. It was an issue just last month in Chambers County. In fact, in two cases, it was faster to send patients to Dallas and El Campo then wait for a bed locally.

"There was no bed space that would be available in the amount of time that they needed it, so the wait was too long based on what these patients needed and the urgency in which they needed it," said Samantha Humphrey, Public Information Officer for Chambers County.

The SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council or SETRAC said some patients were waiting up to eight hours to get transferred. So, SETRAC teamed up with nine area hospital systems. They all agreed to take transfer patients from rural counties and free-standing emergency rooms on a rotation. They launched the initiative three weeks ago.

"Every patient deserves a bed, and deserves the highest level of care," said Upton.

It's something Upton says everyone agreed on.

Around the same time, UMMC opened a new COVID-19 wing where the army started treated COVID-19 patients, and more nursing staff was brought across the area. Those things, combined with the rotation system, started to alleviate the delay.

Now, SETRAC is getting fewer transfer requests, and they're getting transferred within an hour or two.

"Knowing, if need be, I can say this is an emergency transfer and know that the patient will get the care that they need and they'll get acceptance into the facility is really heartwarming," said Upton.

It's something Chambers County is grateful for as the community continues to battle the virus.

"Absolutely. We're glad that the issue is recognized and that they're being proactive," said Humphrey.

She said they're very hopeful the changes will make an impact.

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