COVID patients overflowing into free-standing ERs as local hospitals are stretched thin

As local hospitals and healthcare workers continue to be stretched thin due to the surge of COVID-19 patients, other facilities are feeling the burden as well. 

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As of Tuesday, the Texas Medical Center admitted nearly 450 new COVID patients. 

At hospitals like LBJ, 88% of ICU patients have complications related to the Coronavirus. 

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The surge is now trickling down to free-standing emergency rooms, like Memorial Village ER. 

Dr. Amir Zegar says the case numbers are equally as alarming. 

"I think people are avoiding going to the hospital and finding our facility," said Dr. Zegar.  

"About two months ago, we were seeing about 20 patients a day testing with COVID. We’re anywhere from 200 to 300 a day testing for COVID now. At the peak of July last year, we were seeing similar numbers, about 100 a day of testing," Dr. Zegar continued. 

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Memorial Village ER has had to exponentially increase their staff, according to Dr. Zegar, but with record-level hospitalizations, he says the supply of healthcare workers, like nurses, isn’t enough to keep up with the demand. 

"Prior to COVID, we had one nurse, one tech, one front desk staff. Now we have a COVID team anywhere from 10-15 people testing, running the lab itself. Full capability, whatever emergency, full-blown hospital has, we have capabilities here. We have the monoclonal antibodies if the patient meets the criteria and is high risk and has positive testing, we can provide that treatment for them," Dr. Zegar said. 

Some places, like Memorial Hermann, have been stretched so thin, the system temporarily closed three free-standing ER locations this week to free up additional staff. 

RELATED: Memorial Hermann closes three 24-hour emergency rooms due to COVID-19 surge

Houston’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Persse worries it won’t be enough. 

"This morning, they were again over 500 patients in the greater Houston area waiting to be admitted to hospitals. About 40% of those are diagnosed with COVID. The situation is really, really very, very serious. What can people do and really the simple thing is to get vaccinated," Dr. Persse said. 

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For those who aren’t sure they need to go to the ER, the Harris Health System has a 24/7 hotline service for its patients called "Ask my Nurse" to help them decide. The number to call is 713-634-1110