Here’s an inside look at the frontlines of Houston’s COVID-19 pandemic fight

HOUSTON – For four months, hospital leaders at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center have gathered daily for a COVID-19 “incident command meeting” to evaluate capacity and plan how to respond and expand.

“More and more of the patients are ending up on the ventilators,” the chief medical officer said during the meeting.

“Under 50% of our emergency room arrivals are COVID symptomatic,” another executive said. “Approximately half of those are being admitted.”

There are eight closed COVID-19 units in use at the moment at Baylor St. Luke’s, with a ninth nearly completed.

On the 25th floor of one hospital tower, hundreds of staff members are in the middle of transforming an abdominal transplant unit into a critical care unit

“The whole goal is to add more capacity, more ICU beds, as our patients are getting sicker,” said Vice President of Operations Sal Ababneh.

“Certainly, the numbers are alarming. We have a lot more patients than we did before,” president Liz Youngblood said. “What we don’t want people to do is drop their guard.”

“But the difference from a healthcare provider standpoint is although our numbers are higher, we’re better prepared to take care of patients now,” she added.

Transforming a regular care unit into one that handles critical-care patients would usually take four months, Ababneh said. Baylor St. Luke’s will make the change in two weeks.

“This is our opportunity to demonstrate to the community that we are here for them, we’re here to serve, and we’re prepared to take care of them,” said Youngblood.

Equipment and staff from hospitals out of town will also help Baylor St. Luke’s operate the new COVID units safely and meet the extraordinary demand, she said.

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