‘Feeling Like Death’: Inside a Houston Hospital Bracing for a Virus Peak


‘Feeling Like Death’: Inside a Houston Hospital Bracing for a Virus Peak

‘Feeling Like Death’: Inside a Houston Hospital Bracing for a Virus Peak

The hospitals typically operate with nearly full I.C.U.s, and had planned to increase the number of critically ill patients they could treat. But the next morning, the governor issued an executive order that again restricted elective surgeries in Harris County. The order, however, allows hospitals to continue performing surgeries and procedures that will not deplete their capacity to care for coronavirus patients; some hospital executives and doctors, including ones at Methodist, said they were able to continue providing those services, which they viewed as particularly needed after being halted during the initial shutdown. The Texas Medical Center hospitals are collectively treating about 1,500 coronavirus patients, according to figures released on Saturday.

During the previous surge in mid-April, Methodist’s system had at most just over 200 coronavirus patients. On Sunday, it had nearly 400 inpatients with the virus, and about 150 more were being tested for it. Some models predict a peak in two to three weeks.

Roberta L. Schwartz, an executive vice president and chief innovation officer at Methodist, who is serving as the coronavirus incident commander, walked from unit to unit on Saturday “trolling for beds,” as she described it. She spoke with nurses and doctors, troubleshooting to solve problems that could delay sending patients home or transferring them to lower levels of care when they were ready. She informed nurses in an intermediate care unit that it would soon transition into an I.C.U. for coronavirus patients.

She visited a huge laboratory with more than $3 million worth of new instrumentation that she referred to as the “Taj Mahal,” a former academic lab that was repurposed to process virus tests, and took her first look at two recently purchased machines that can run 1,000 tests a day. In some parts of the country, laboratories, including Methodist’s, have experienced recent testing backlogs as demand and new cases have increased.

The hospital is hiring traveling nurses to bolster its staff and offering bonuses as incentives to some employees to take extra shifts. In recent days, hospital beds and mobile computers were rolled into an empty, 34-bed unit that had been shuttered and will now be used for coronavirus patients. “This is why I don’t have to put trailers out front and mobile hospitals out front,” Dr. Schwartz said. The changes were also part of the hospital’s efforts to maintain capacity to safely treat its many nonvirus patients.


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