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San Antonio Still Accepting Transfers As Concerns Over Hospital Capacity Grow

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San Antonio hospital capacity remains at a dire level.

Though bed and ventilator capacity rose slightly on Sunday, the city's hospitals have been under “high stress” for nearly two weeks, according to the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council. As of Sunday, 27% of the area’s 4,713 staffed beds and 72% of the area’s 603 ventilators were available.

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Bexar County hospitals have 1,270 staffed hospital beds available, and an emergency alert about hospital capacity was sent to county residents on Saturday. Officials have repeatedly urged residents to avoid unnecessary social gatherings, stay home when possible and wear face coverings to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to avoid an overwhelmed hospital system — a scenario that could lead to a situation where ventilators are rationed and preventable deaths occur.

San Antonio also has additional surge capacity for a crisis situation, including a currently unused site at Freeman Coliseum.

Medical officials around Southwest Texas responded on Sunday to an incorrect report that San Antonio hospitals were no longer accepting out-of-county patients. A widely shared Facebook post stated that San Antonio hospitals were no longer accepting transfers and that Del Rio and Eagle Pass hospitals were at capacity. This is untrue, but the post was shared more than 470 times before being deleted.

Find COVID-19 updates for Bexar County here (aquí para español) and for the Rio Grande Valley here (aquí para español).

An official with the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council responded to the Facebook post through a Bexar County spokesperson, saying “This is not accurate. Hospitals in SA are definitely experiencing stress and will have had some delays but they are still accepting transfers based on individual hospital capability and capacity.”

Angela Prather is the director of marketing and public relations at Val Verde Regional Medical Center in Del Rio.

“We are not at capacity and are still getting patients out to San Antonio,” Prather said.

She said the hospital hadn’t even reached 50% capacity in its ICU and had not activated surge capacity yet. She said 53 beds were available as of Friday.

Many small rural hospitals rely on San Antonio medical centers for intensive care. Dimmit Regional in Carrizo Springs is one of them, with only 25 beds, five of which are in use.

The hospital’s CEO, John Graves, told TPR that the site is intended only for acute care and that patients requiring intensive care or ventilation are usually sent to San Antonio.

“We have not had anybody refused,” he said.

Uvalde Memorial Hospital is about 50 miles north of Carrizo Springs. It sits about halfway between Del Rio and San Antonio. Unlike Dimmit Regional, Uvalde Memorial has the ability to put patients on ventilators. Eighteen out of its 50 beds are in use.

A spokesperson said Uvalde Memorial and other rural hospitals have been told to care for patients in place when possible, but transfers of critical patients to San Antonio are ongoing.

In Webb County, there are 1,262 cases. Since Friday, Laredo has seen three new deaths, including one person from Zapata County. The City of Laredo reinstated a universal curfew for nonessential activities from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m, which also limits gatherings outside of a household to no more than six.

Laredo hospitals remain near capacity.

Officials with Fort Duncan Regional Medical Center in Eagle Pass did not immediately reply to TPR’s request for comment.

Dominic Anthony Walsh can be reached at Dominic@TPR.org and on Twitter at @_DominicAnthony.

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Dominic Anthony Walsh can be reached at Dominic@TPR.org and on Twitter at @_DominicAnthony