Saturated Houston hospitals transferring COVID-19 patients to other cities

Harris Health Systems, the public health agency that operates Ben Taub and LBJ hospitals, is sending COVID-19 patients to facilities outside of the area in an effort to cope with the growing healthcare crisis.

Charlie McMurray-Horton, the associate administrator for Clinical Integration and Transformation at Harris Health, spoke to Daily Houston about the capacity issues affecting Harris Health hospitals this afternoon.

“It really has intensified in the last month or so,” said McMurray-Horton. “We are actively trying to transfer out ICU and surge patients that are COVID positive and under investigation, just because we don’t have the capacity to treat those patients,” McMurray-Horton added.

Harris Health Systems said it has transferred patients to UTMB in Galveston, the Woodlands, and as far away as Conroe. The scramble to find beds for patients also has a trickle down effect.

For a week now, Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena has spoken out about the longer transfer time for patients firefighters bring by ambulance. A normal transfer time may take approximately 20 minutes. In the past three weeks, data shows on more than 560 occasions, firefighters were holding their ambulance patients for more than an hour.

“Our firefighters are working extra hours, they’re racking up the overtime,” said Pena. “They know there’s not one easy shift.”

“That same flow that’s hitting us, is hitting all the other emergency centers in the Medical Center,” said McMurray-Horton. She chuckled when we asked her about the recent controversy involving the CEOs of other large hospitals within the Texas Medical Center.

Last week, several hospital CEOs first said bed capacity was surging to a critical phase, and then backtracked, saying capacity isn’t an issue. Following that, the Texas Medical Center altered the COVID-19 dashboard that had been available to the public in tracking the data.

To McMurray-Horton, the reality of finding beds for patients is something she is juggling with every day. She describes it as a hurricane with no end in sight.

“Don’t get it twisted. There is a concern that we need to be able to meet our community’s needs and we’re doing whatever we can to serve the community’s needs.”

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