Patients stranded in rural hospitals as Covid-19 overwhelms Texas healthcare system

Poorly equipped rural health facilities in Texas are forced to keep patients in need of specialized care because the state’s health system, including some top-tier urban hospitals, is overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases.

Daniel Wilkinson survived two tours of duty in Afghanistan but died of complications from gallstones, slowly deteriorating as his ill-equipped doctors watched helplessly.

Wilkinson, 46, lived just a 90-minute drive or 30-minute helicopter ride from Houston, famous for its world-class hospitals. The problem is that the Texas health care system has been completely overwhelmed by people suffering from the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

In this wealthy state, 14,700 people were hospitalized on Sept. 1, just short of a record set in January when a winter Covid wave wreaked havoc across the United States.

“In the previous waves, we had a little over 750 patients. Right now we’ve been seeing 820 to 850 patients, so the hospitals are pretty full,” said Roberta Schwartz, executive vice president of Houston Methodist Hospital, who at it is actually a group of hospitals.

Things are so bad that a conference room in one of the facilities is being used to treat patients.

Thus, rural health facilities are forced to keep patients for whom they are not equipped to care, such as Wilkinson.

He was admitted Aug. 21 to the only hospital in his county, a block from his home in the city of Bellville, with a population of 4,000.

The hospital did not have the equipment to remove his gallstones, so he tried to arrange a helicopter transfer to another hospital.

“Our staff and physician worked non-stop for over six hours trying to get him transferred to a tertiary care facility anywhere,” said Daniel Bonk, CEO of Bellville Medical Center.

“Our ER doctor at that point went on Facebook to try to get him transferred,” Bonk said.

A doctor near Austin, the Texas capital, offered to take Wilkinson in and then called again five minutes later to say there was no room at his hospital.

Find a bed, somehow

“We get some calls every day from rural hospital leaders who are desperately trying to find a place to send these patients,” said John Henderson, president of the Texas Rural and Community Hospitals Organization. The Texas extension has 158 such facilities, more than any other US state.

He said the Wilkinson case was not isolated.

“I would say that every day this week we have had a situation that did not end well and resulted in the death of a patient,” Henderson said.

Hospital staff feel helpless and overwhelmed by the frantic search for hospital beds somewhere bigger and better equipped.

“We lose a nurse essentially every day, because that nurse has to call all the hospitals in the surrounding areas to show that we are doing our due diligence to get them elsewhere,” said Renee Poulter, who manages the nursing staff at the Bellville Hospital.

“And that takes hours, hours, if not all day, phoning all the hospitals in the great state of Texas to see if someone accepts their patient,” he added.

The Bellville facility is not designed to have an intensive care unit but, like many, out of necessity, it had to design one.

“We have a critical Covid positive ICU patient in our rural facility that we have been treating for 11 days because we cannot find a higher level of care for him,” Poulter said.

Help from other US states

To help them, Texas is providing respirators, oxygen, and other aids to these busy rural hospitals to stabilize their patients. It is also bringing in nurses from other states.

Two of these helpers showed up last week in Bellville, one from Pennsylvania and the other from Alabama, each working six shifts a week.

In one of the hospital rooms, a 72-year-old local woman named Carmella finishes a meal while her husband keeps her company, a day after he suffered a heart attack.

“They jumped in and did everything they could, but they are just overwhelmed. They tried to transfer me. I heard some of the phone calls. And no one wanted to take me,” said Carmella, who did not give him the last word. Name.

“From what I understand, nobody is leaving here,” he said. “It is a sad situation.”

Carmella finally got better and was able to go home.

Others have not been so lucky.


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