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'Things are tight' | Nursing shortage, rise in COVID-19 cases affecting hospital bed availability, organization says

Agency staff say the situation is changing so rapidly that it is difficult to say exactly how much availability there is.

SAN ANTONIO — A local organization that oversees trauma and emergency care over a huge area of South Texas says a nursing shortage and increase in COVID-19 cases are contributing to fewer staffed hospital beds in San Antonio.

Eric Epley, Executive Director of the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council (STRAC) said Monday that "things are tight" in response to questions about staffed hospital bed availability.

This comes after Judge Barbara Canales of Nueces County claimed there were no available staffed hospital beds in San Antonio in statement urging nurses to return to work.

Epley says the situation is changing so rapidly that it is difficult to say exactly how much availability there is.

"It changes hour by hour and minute by minute, so at any given time, you could have a snapshot and say, 'There are no beds at Christus, there are not beds at Baptist' or whatever, but that is not necessarily true," Epley said. 

Epley said both the recent sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in San Antonio and a nursing shortage are factors. He said there are many reasons for the nursing shortage. 

"We have some people that are weary in this third surge and some of them are retired early," Epley said. "Some left their hospital job and went to work for an agency, a contracting nurse, and they haven't come back from those roles yet. And it's also the end of the summer, right? So there are going to some people who have vacation and other time off."

Data from the Texas Department of State Health Services indicates Trauma Service Area P (the area served by STRAC) as of July 31 was at 10.65% of COVID patients in the hospital. The agency maintains the regional trauma and emergency healthcare system for 22 counties, including urban, suburban, rural and frontier areas.

Additionally, data from STRAC shows as of Monday morning, there were 855 COVID+ inpatients across San Antonio Healthcare Systems. The maximum capacity is 1,520 inpatients. 

"We are expanding capability, capacity in every aspect as fast as we can," Epley said. 

He urged everyone to get vaccinated as the best protection from severe illness from COVID-19 and the recent Delta variant.

"Let's all get vaccinated and put this thing to bed," Epley said. 

Read the statement from Judge Barbara Canales from Nueces County in full below: 

We have an urgent situation in the Coastal Bend.

Because of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, we are now in another surge of infections. And our capacity to handle these infections is limited by a shortage of nurses.

Here’s how bad it is:

Every staffed hospital bed is full. All area hospitals are on divert, which means they cannot accept patients. This includes Corpus Christi, Victoria, Kingsville, Beeville, and San Antonio.

There are beds available but no nursing staff for them. 

I have reached out to state officials at Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Department of State Health Services and will be making an official request for assistance as soon as possible.

This help may take time, or may not be available – there is a shortage of nurses across the state and the entire nation.

Many nurses left the workforce during the pandemic, some due to the workload, and others due to providers which went out of business due to COVID.

I would ask that in this time of crisis, all nurses who are able and not currently working step up and contact our hospitals to help out.

We truly need your help – our community is facing an enormous challenge, and nurses have ALWAYS risen to the challenge.

If you are a nurse and want to see how you can help, contact: 859-396-8204.”

Baptist Health System released the following statement regarding a shortage in nursing staff:

As the current COVID surge continues to stress our nurses, staff and hospitals, Baptist Health System continues to adjust shifts to relieve staff as much as possible while continuing to safely care for all COVID and non-COVID patients in our system. Baptist Health System is in the process of onboarding new RNs and recent staff hires and is offering incentives including generous sign-on bonuses to qualified new RN graduates for its Med-Surge and Telemetry Units. Baptist Health System reminds the community that the best protection against the virus is to receive the vaccine (either the one-dose Johnson & Johnson or both doses of the Pfizer and Moderna brands), to wear masks and social distance when in public, and always practice proper hand hygiene. Baptist Health System strongly recommends those who have not yet received their vaccine to sign up at any of their vaccine clinics here at https://www.baptisthealthsystem.com/our-response-to-covid-19/covid-19-vaccine-registration. Those who are fully vaccinated are less likely to become dangerously ill and hospitalized from the virus and its variants.