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With shortage of medical professionals in Houston area, officials warn patient care may suffer

HOUSTON – Coronavirus cases are filling up Houston hospitals.

COVID-19 patients currently fill 2,514 hospital beds, which is 28% of the general beds available in the nine-county Houston region, according to the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, the agency that keeps a daily count of available hospital beds at 12 local hospitals. More than 850 COVID-19 patients are in ICU beds, which is 45% of the ICU availability.

“The facilities do have physical beds,” said SETRAC CEO Darrell Pile. “However, the bed does not result in the care of the patients. We’ve got to have a staff and this has gone on so long that now our own staff has started to dwindle.”

The lack of manpower is a big problem causing delays that can affect patient care.

“We have cases who are dying. People are very sick. We don’t have enough personnel,” said Dr. Joseph Varon of the United Memorial Medical Center.

He said the shortage has resulted in long wait times at his hospital for sometimes desperately ill patients who need beds.

“I have patients waiting a long time to get into the emergency room. I‘ve had patients waiting in her cars to get into the emergency room because the emergency room is packed,” he said.

On Tuesday, 273 patients were waiting for beds while 41 of them were waiting for ICU beds, according to SETRAC.

“It’s unprecedented. This crisis is breaking records for us,” said Pile.

Federal help is stepping in to help coronavirus response in the Houston area. The U.S. Army deployed a medical unit to the UMMC. Beginning Thursday, Army doctors and nurses will begin assisting up to 50 patients.

In addition, about 400 nurses have been brought in from other parts of the country to help local hospitals.

But one doctor warned that if hospitalizations continue to mount, more help will be needed.

“This is the real thing. If we don’t do what we need to do to control this every hospital in America is going to have the same problem that we’re having.” Dr. Varon said.