Brazos Valley hospital activates surge plans to reduce stress on emergency room
“This helps us to decrease the exposure in our lobby and our overflow stretchers and hallway treatment areas. It also helps us to keep a good amount of our emergency department beds that are fully monitored, open for those patients who need those beds the most.”
BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - Huntsville Memorial Hospital is working hard to stay ahead of the curve as COVID-19 hospitalizations rates continue to surge across Texas. In August, the hospital enacted a no visitors policy to reduce exposing patients and staff to the virus. In late August, the hospital began offering monoclonal antibody treatments for patients who tested positive and pose a high risk for severe COVID-19 related illness. Wednesday, the hospital activated what they call mobile medical units to reduce stress in the emergency room.
Huntsville Memorial CEO Patrick Shannon says activating the latest measure of their surge plan will allow medical personnel inside the hospital to remain focused on the most critical patients, while keeping people displaying mild symptoms from others. Shannon says the tents can serve between 10-18 patients at one time.
“We went down this road because we felt like we wanted to make sure that we were proactive in preparing for increased numbers of COVID patients,” said Shannon. “Were very fortunate to procure this mobile medical unit from the Walker County Office of Emergency Management and the Texas Department of Emergency Management.”
Shannon says the mobile medical unit allows emergency room staff to see 20% fewer patients inside the emergency room.
“Our hospital has been seeing an increase in COVID inpatients. We’ve reached numbers as high as 43 inpatients COVID patients with a total census of about 80 to 81. Roughly 50% of our patients have been COVID,” said Shannon. “Our emergency department gets very congested, and it’s also difficult to transfer out to other hospitals down south, such as Conroe, The Woodlands, or even Houston because they’re dealing with increased COVID patients as well.”
In times where hospital space is limited, Shannon says having options are crucial.
“This helps us to add on some additional capacity, somewhere between eight to 10 additional bays that will help throughout the process in our emergency department,” said Shannon. “They are able to keep the lower acuity patients processed through here. Sometimes testing is required. Sometimes they can be discharged and hopefully not needing admission. So these patients can go through this space as opposed to going through our emergency department that is now handling higher acuity patients.”
This is not the first time Huntsville Memorial turned to mobile medical units. Shannon says they were used during the first surge.
“Last year, at the beginning of COVID, we did something similar. It was a different setup. This year we have a better setup.” said Shannon.
“We were as low as two COVID inpatients back in, I want to say in early June or late June. Since then, it’s been ticking up. With the university now having students in there for school, as well as other high schools and schools in general, we’re just trying to make sure that we stay ahead of it to the greatest extent possible.”
Shannons says the hospital’s management meets regularly to discuss the best ways to meet the community’s needs.
“As part of our own going discussions, we frequently meet as a COVID task force. We’ve expanded our care and capability. We expanded some locations within the hospital to take on more ICU patients,” said Shannon. We’ve also converted some of our normal patient rooms to critical care rooms, and we’re doing some minor construction where needed, to just kind of carve out additional spaces to accommodate these patients.”
Amanda Wheeler, the hospital’s Director of Emergency Services, says the mobile medical unit has already shown signs of reducing the strain in the emergency department.
“We’re able to alleviate about 15 to 20% of our daily volume and treat those patients here in the tent, which leaves those beds available in the emergency department,” said Wheeler. “It really helps from a bed capacity standpoint when our volumes are higher or when bed capacity is very limited inside the emergency department.”
“Typically, these are patients that are experiencing mild symptoms. A cough, a fever, maybe they’ve had exposure to somebody that they know is positive, and they just need a COVID test. These patients usually just require a medical screening evaluation by our buyer providers in the ER,” said Wheeler. “They may need a prescription or follow-up referrals. They’re usually mildly ill and can be managed at home.”
Wheeler says hospital staff hoped that things would not get to this point, but they’re ready to meet the challenge and care for the community.
“I was very hopeful that the two to three-month reprieve was going to stand firm for us, but unfortunately, with the new variants and the spike and increase in infections, we’re right back to where we were last year. So it is disheartening,” said Wheeler. “Compared to the first wave, I think there’s a little less uncertainty among the clinical staff. We know a little bit more about how to manage COVID. There are some treatment options available to us now that we didn’t have the first go-round.”
“The severity of this round of COVID seems to be more virulent. The patients seem to be a little bit sicker,” said Wheeler. ‘In a lot of ways, we’re better off than we were the first round. In a lot of ways, we’re having to regroup and reallocate resources and treatment options for patients.”
Wheeler says treatments like the monoclonal antibody infusions have gone a long way in helping keep people out of the hospital.
“One thing that’s new this round for us is a treatment option called monoclonal antibody treatment. That’s an infusion that patients can get if they meet criteria that severely decreases the chance of hospitalization or worsening illness,” said Wheeler. “We’re able to triage those patients, treat them and refer them for an outpatient infusion that will hopefully prevent them from getting sick in the days to come. So that’s something we’re really excited about.”
Baylor Scott & White and St. Joseph Health say they have surge plans in place but mobile medical units are not needed at the moment.
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