Houston hospital CEOs talk ICU bed capacity, encourage safe measures in public

By Sandra Sadek | Editorial Intern
Posted 6/25/20

Amid reports of 97% capacity in Houston-area hospitals, their CEOs addressed the concern of ICU bed capacity for COVID-19 treatment during a virtual June 25press conference.

CEOs from Houston …

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Houston hospital CEOs talk ICU bed capacity, encourage safe measures in public

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Amid reports of 97% capacity in Houston-area hospitals, their CEOs addressed the concern of ICU bed capacity for COVID-19 treatment during a virtual June 25press conference.

CEOs from Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann Health System, St. Luke’s Health and Texas Children’s Hospital reaffirmed that hospitals are not overfilled and that the high percentage of bed in the intensive care unit used is not out of the ordinary. However, they added that the concern for patients’ long-term health after having COVID-19 was also an important reason to practice prevention efforts such as washing hands, social distancing and wearing masks to curb the spread of the disease, making it important for the hospital systems and general public to work together.

Houston Methodist CEO Dr. Marc Boom, said the capacity numbers are being misinterpreted which has led to an alarming and unwarranted amount of concern. According to Boom, the ICU capacity numbers for Houston Methodist at the same time last year was at 95%.

“We do have the capacity to care for many more patients and have lots of fluidity and ability to manage,” Boom said. “We are highly experienced in utilizing our ICU beds for the sickest of the sick patients, day in and day out. And it is completely normal for us to have ICU capacities that run in the 80s and 90s. That’s how all hospitals operate.”

All four CEOs said hospitals have the ability to expand their ICU capacity if needed to accommodate more patients. Staffing is also not an issue, said Dr. Doug Lawson, CEO at St. Luke’s Health. Lawson said hospitals have also been relying on part-time and contract nurses from across the country to help the core staff with patients when needed.

“For me personally, the real issue is physical capacity… to care for patients. The rest kind of becomes a function of staffing,” Lawson said. “As we work with (Texas Medical Center), we’re all concerned about the spread of this virus. The reality is (the community has) to do a much better job of masking, hand hygiene and social distancing ourselves. The spread is increasing and it’s very concerning.”

To accommodate other hospitals who may need ICU beds, Texas Children’s Hospital has begun accepting referrals to treat COVID-19 adult patients. According to CEO and President Mark Wallace, the hospital is currently treating 25 COVID-19 patients, 13 of which are pediatric children, 12 of which are adults.

“We have a lot of capacity at Texas Children’s Hospital and so we have dedicated over 30 beds with about half of those beds being intensive care units to help take care of adult patients,” Wallace said.

As Texas reaches its fifteenth consecutive day of speedy increases in COVID-19 cases, hospital officials are urging the community to come together to flatten the curve and continue to practice CDC recommended precautions.

“As you look at those numbers, please work with us to try and understand the actual operational status. It’s a little bit more complex than absolute numbers of beds on a daily basis. We’re used to operating at high number capacity,” said Dr. David Callender, CEO of the Memorial Hermann Health System.

“We’re here to help and want to continue to work with our elected officials as well as business leaders across the community to think about how we turn the tide with this virus. What we’re really concerned about as health care providers is that people will acquire the illness - that’s unnecessary and can lead to the unnecessary long-term functional implications and even death,” Callender said.

While death from COVID-19 is a possibility, the long-term health effects can be serious according to Advent Health, a faith-based group of hospitals. Lasting and possibly lifelong effects of the disease include kidney issues that may lead to transplants or permanent dialysis dependency, brain damage, various heart conditions such as cardiac arrest and heart failure, strokes and other blood clot-related issues, gastrointestinal bleeding. Physicians also report permanent damage to vocal chords and reduced lung capacity.

“We all want to avoid that so that’s why we are emphasizing the wearing of masks, maintaining appropriate social distancing, washing our hands frequently, and when we’re sick, staying home,” Callender said.

R. Hans Miller contributed to this story.

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