Health official: Area hospitals are surpassing original capacity

Local hospitals have surpassed, or are close to surpassing their original capacity as COVID-19 hospitalizations have exponentially increased in recent weeks.

Dr. Ivan Melendez, the Hidalgo County health authority, said Wednesday that all their major hospitals — including Knapp Medical Center, Mission Regional Medical Center, Rio Grande Regional Hospital, Edinburg Regional Medical Center, and McAllen Medical Center, had either over extended their current bed capacity or were on the verge of doing so.

“So every single hospital has increased their bed availability by using other parts of the hospital that was part of their contingency plan or not being used before,” Melendez said during a virtual news conference Wednesday.

“So for example, I just left Doctors Hospital, they’re almost up to 60 folks,” Melendez said. “Their unit can only take 58 so they’re making arrangements to open up other parts of the hospital to accommodate that.”

He added that Rio Grande Regional Hospital opened up two units and was now opening up another floor.

“Edinburg (Regional Medical Center) is doing the exact same thing,” he said.

He added that Mission Regional Medical Center had opened up units near their emergency department because their number of COVID-19 hospitalizations was “extremely high.”

“I can tell you that all of the hospitals that I am aware of are exceeding their bed space, their original bed spaces,” he said.

Because of those accommodations the hospitals were making, though, Melendez assured that there was still space within the hospitals.

“They still have bed spaces, of course, they’re not saturated yet, but they’ve had to carry (out) their previous set contingency plans,” he said. “They have not panicked, they have preplanned what they would do in case this occurred and now those plans that were laid out months ago are now being put into action.”

Before the economy began re-opening on May 1, hospitalizations in the county were down in single digits, Melendez noted. Within the last two weeks, though, their numbers began approaching 200.

“We’ve seen almost a five-fold of hospitalizations within the last two-week period,” he said.

The trauma service area of the Lower Rio Grande Valley — which is defined as Starr, Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties — reported 39 hospitalizations on April 8, according to data from the Department of State Health Service.

That number fluctuated over the next two months until it jumped from 67 to 91 hospitalizations from June 11 until June 12.

As of Wednesday, hospitalizations were reported at 312.

That represents a 365.67% increase from June 11 until now and a 700% increase from April 8 until now.

By comparison, Houston, the trauma service area that currently has the most hospitalizations, their hospitalizations increased by 109% since June 11 and by 171% since April 8.

Statewide, hospitalizations increased by 118.5% since June 11 and 194% from April 8 until now.

The Texas Hospital Association issued a statement Wednesday assuring capacity in facilities statewide.

“To meet the demand, hospitals can adjust their flow of patients, including slowing or pausing non-COVID-19-related procedures and increasing bed capacity, as volumes fluctuate,” the statement read. “In addition, Texas hospitals continue to reserve 15% of capacity for COVID-19 patients. Also, medical care continues to be routinely provided in outpatient settings without taxing the overall hospitalization capacity.”

The association also noted that there are some areas throughout the state that have limited numbers of, or even no, COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“Hospitals are partnering with other facilities in their region to control capacity levels and ensure the highest quality care for every Texan who seeks it,” the THA added. “They share boots-on-the ground perspective through regular communication and long-standing partnerships. Hospital leaders are coordinating closely with state leadership and public health experts to help maintain statewide visibility on acute capacity issues and other critical concerns.”

What is worrisome, according to Melendez, is the direction in which those numbers are going, especially if they continue to grow at an exponential rate.

“I’m seeing the impact that this accelerated rate is causing in the hospitals,” Melendez said. “I’m seeing the staffing issues.”

One local hospital, he said, had more than 50 COVID-19 patients. Of those, 23 of them required hemodialysis which has to be administered at their bedside.

“Well of course we also have a lot of people in our part of the country that go to the emergency departments to get emergency dialysis because that’s their only source,” Melendez said. “So imagine if you’re having 23 bedside dialysis and then you still have to take care another 40 or 50 people a week that need to be dialyzed in the emergency department.”

“So that’s an example that I would like the public to know, how even a doubling in our percent rate begins to tax significantly the resources that are available,” he said.

He clarified that he doesn’t think that hospitals are being taxed to the point of saturation at this point but that would become an issue if the positivity rate kept doubling.

“If we were at 6% today and we were at 12% in two weeks, and we were at 24% in another two weeks, that would be a catastrophic event for us,” he said. “Of course there are plans should that occur.”