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STRAC Director Fears Region's Healthcare System May Spiral Into Historic COVID-19 Crisis

Makeshift hospital beds at the Freeman Coliseum. The Freeman Coliseum is one of the places that patients may be held at if hospitals reach capacity.
Kathleen Creedon | Texas Public Radio
Makeshift hospital beds at the Freeman Coliseum. The Freeman Coliseum is one of the places that patients may be held at if hospitals reach capacity.

San Antonio has continued to experience increasing COVID-19 case and hospitalization numbers over the past several weeks. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff has repeatedly warned that if the trend goes on for another two weeks, the San Antonio healthcare system will be in the midst of a crisis. 

Eric Epley is the executive director of the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council (STRAC), an organization which coordinates trauma care for 53 hospitals, 70 EMS agencies and 14 life flight helicopters in a region of South Texas the size of West Virginia. 

Epley says San Antonio has seen the number of cases of COVID-19 doubling every week for the last three weeks, and the hospital system is reaching capacity.

“If we were to continue to do that, for the next week after that, the next weekend after that ... that's gonna be concerning,” Epley said. “So I think we're ... a week, two weeks out from being in a really, really big crisis.”

Epley described what the healthcare system crisis might look like. 

“We're going to have to transfer people and load balance to all over this state,” Epley said. “And maybe out of state, we're going to have to have additional capability at ultimate care sites or those kinds of things. I mean, that's several weeks away. But those are real possibilities.”

Epley said the number of beds isn’t the biggest problem. Bed capacity is being improved across the state, with surge capacity available in places like the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio and NRG Stadium in Houston. Epley said the biggest problem is finding the healthcare workers to staff those beds.

“We've asked the state of Texas to assist us with additional critical care and mercy nursing and they’re responding to that very well,” Epley said.

According to Epley, the state has so far sent 150 extra nurses to the 22-county region that STRAC is responsible for, and that means more beds are available for patients than were available a week ago.

Even so, with case and hospitalization numbers rising as rapidly as they have been, Epley said Texas hospitals won’t be able to keep up if Texans don’t do their part — stay home if they can and wear masks, maintain social distancing and regularly wash their hands when they can’t. 

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie.

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