BY WILL MADDOX
Much has been made of the lack of hospital beds in North Texas during the recent COVID-19 surge. The dearth of pediatric ICU beds at local children’s hospitals made it on CNN, with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins making dark predictions like, “Your child will wait for another child to die” before they receive care. Things have gotten so bleak that Jenkins has taken to tweeting out the number of available ICU beds in the region each day.
But the explosion of COVID-19 cases over the past six weeks still hasn’t reached the peak numbers North Texas saw in January. So why are we seeing dire headlines about the lack of beds when COVID-19 infections were statistically worse earlier this year?
Several factors beyond COVID-19 cases are contributing to the lack of bed space. One is the overall hospital census, which is greater than during the peak of COVID-19 this winter. Many were afraid to call 911 during the earlier waves, and heart attack victims, stroke victims, and other emergencies never made it to the hospital. Emergency service companies reported a 35 percent decrease in emergency calls and an increased number of dead arrivals at different stages during the pandemic. Patients are now more comfortable coming to the hospital, and, after months of delayed care, they are looking to catch up on missed appointments, procedures, and treatments. After the winter surge, hospitals have stayed full with non-COVID-19 patients.
Another issue is the staff shortage. A hospital may have available space, but if there isn’t staff to attend to those patients, a patient can’t occupy that bed. During the first waves of COVID-19, different regions of the country experienced surges at different times. That meant hospitals could bring in traveling caregivers to staff the beds. “There is no rescue cavalry, and it is so bad everywhere, that no one available to come to our aide,” says Dr. Mark Casanova, a palliative care physician with Baylor Scott & White and a member of the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 Task Force. (He was also the president of the Dallas County Medical Society in 2020 during the pandemic.)