What happens when a hospital is full of COVID-19 patients? Here's what you need to know

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- "What we're hearing more and more is we don't have any beds," said Dr. Hashibul Hannan.

Doctor Hashibul Hannan works at SignatureCare Emergency Center. They have nine stand-alone ERs in the Houston area, and have seen a big spike in COVID-19 patients.

"Now we're seeing lots of symptoms, problem breathing coughing, weakness," said Dr. Hannan.

He said they can't keep their patients for long stays, and they're running into a big problem as they try to transfer them to hospitals.

We're having to send patients far away. Like from Houston, we have to send people to Galveston, to Beaumont, to Huntsville," said Hannan.

While it's not clear why those SignatureCare patients were denied transfers to closer hospitals, capacity, at times, has been an issue.

ABC13 reached out to St. Luke's who said there may be a need to temporarily divert traffic.
The statement read, in part:

"We take all patients in need of our care as long as we have the staff and resources to care for those patients. Additionally, we follow all the regulatory guidelines in regards to the acceptance of patients who need our care. However, in some instances, it is not unusual for emergency rooms to notify local emergency medical services if there is a need to temporarily divert traffic."

Houston Methodist said some times, but not often, they've had to turn away transfer patients. They said they are getting more requests from some hospitals to transfer patients to their facilities and it's all about what's available at that moment in time.

"If you ask at this second in time, whether I have a particular bed in a particular way, I may not have it in that second. But, it might be free in another hour, and if we don't have it in another hour and it's really needed, we'll work to transition capacity and meet the need of that patient," said Executive VP Houston Methodist Hospital Roberta Schwartz, Ph.D.

Methodist said it's adding or transitioning twenty beds into COVID-19 beds a day and anticipates adding up to 200 more beds system-wide. It's also brought in traveler nurses to assist with staffing and says they are handling demand well.

Also, Texas Children's Hospital, who has started taking adult patients, said it recently denied the transfer of an adult COVID-19 patient. They sent a statement saying:
"At Texas Children's Special Isolation Unit, where we care for patients with highly contagious diseases, like COVID-19, our first priority is caring for pediatric patients. With the increasing number of COVID-19 positive cases throughout our community, we too have seen an increase in hospitalization rates of our patients. We recently denied the transfer of a COVID-19 positive adult to prioritize the care for those children with COVID-19 in this unit. As we all know, this is a fluid situation. We have dedicated teams who are assessing our census and ability to accept additional patients daily. However, we did offer to accept transfers of COVID-19 negative adults for whom we currently have capacity to care for."

This comes a day after CEOs from four major hospital systems said there was plenty of capacity. Schwartz said they work to ensure that if a transfer patient is in need of care they'll receive it from one of the area hospitals.

"If you, tomorrow, come down with COVID-19 and come to the hospital, you'll be taken care of at any hospital," said Schwartz.

Hannan said if you're sick, call your doctor, do a virtual visit if you can and only go to the ER if you have to.

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