HOUSTON - On Wednesday morning, Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, part of Harris Health System, declared an internal disaster due to a nursing shortage compounded by the increase in COVID-19 ICU patients.
Derek Curtis, Chief Nursing Officer at LBJ, tells FOX 26 they had a patient wait more than 30 hours to be seen at the emergency center.
He explains the hospital had enough staff to cover 16 of its 24 ICU beds. However, it had 31 ICU patients. The overflow was in the emergency center. Most of them, he adds are positive for COVID-19.
"In our ICU, we have 13 that are COVID positive. In the EC, of the 17 that are waiting for beds, 10 of those are COVID positive," Curtis pointed out.
To help meet the demand, he says Harris Health is closing its Vallbona and Squatty Lyons health centers. The staff from those clinics are training to begin helping at LBJ on Monday.
Harris Health says, overall, they are short about 150 to 250 nurses.
The Texas Nurses Association says the shortage is statewide.
"Just a rough estimate, anywhere from 30,000 to 60,000 nurses short right now, and that could double within the next few years if they keep leaving the field like they are," explained Dr. Tammy Eades, President of the Texas Nurses Association.
She says burnout from COVID-19 is pushing nurses out of the field particularly those who work bedside.
"They haven't really relaxed from the first wave that we had, so it's just like another wave, on top of another wave, on top of another wave and they're exhausted," added Eades.
The association says calls to its helpline have been overwhelming.
"It's a crisis right now and we're asking everybody just take COVID seriously," said Abby Kehoe, a nurse who works in geriatric care in greater Houston. "It's nothing to play with."
She says with the nursing shortage compounded by COVID-19, she works 16 hours days, seven days a week.
"You don't want to leave your teammates hanging because you don't want to run short," Kehoe explained. "So, you try to do as much as you can but at the end of the day, ultimately, your body gets tired."
Early in the pandemic, the University of St. Thomas in Houston began to plan for a Second-Degree Accelerated BSN (ABSN) program, which launched last fall.
"We have 95 students enrolled right now, so this month, we will be graduating our first cohort," said Jacqueline Rideau, Site Director for the program. She adds the next class is already full.
"[We're] coming up into our fall term with more students than we projected to have, so we currently also have a waiting list," Rideau added.
As for helping nurses and medical staff right now, since COVID-19 hospitalizations are largely among the unvaccinated, Curtis is urging everyone to get vaccinated and wear a mask.