San Antonio hospital capacity surge impacting surrounding rural communities

Those being treated in hospitals are sicker than those coming in in the first wave, officials say

San Antonio – The surge of COVID-19 cases in San Antonio and Bexar County is causing concerns for hospitalization spikes in surrounding communities.

Dr. Sergio Zamora, with Fort Duncan Regional Medical Center in Eagle Pass, said the COVID-19 hospitalization spikes are troubling for rural communities like his.

“Eagle Pass is a small town, with a small ICU hospital. We have just 10 ICU beds available,” he said. “If we have another surge like the one we’re having right now, we won’t have the capacity.”

The limited number of ventilators they have have to be used for regular ICU patients and COVID-19 patients. He said rural hospitals are also having trouble getting medicine like remdesivir.

Zamora said a patient looking to be transferred to a San Antonio hospital was turned away earlier this week.

Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens said the same thing happened to a patient in his county earlier this week.

“We had a scare where we couldn’t ship someone to a San Antonio hospital,” he said.

He doesn’t blame the hospitals — it’s just the situation that everyone is in. He said his county saw the number of positive cases jump to more than 100 in less than a month. Those being treated in hospitals are sicker than those coming in in the first wave.

“Are we concerned? Is it troubling? Yeah, we live out here in the middle of nowhere,” he said.

Eric Epley, the Southwest Texas Advisory Council executive director, said San Antonio hospitals are stressed. STRAC oversees 53 hospitals in Region 8, which includes 22 counties. He said a Thursday conference call with those rural hospitals revealed the same frustrations about patients being turned away by larger hospitals.

“Yes, they’re taking patients from rural areas where they can. Capability and capacity is always going to be a minute by minute, hour by hour decision, and there may be delays occasionally. But, yes, that is still the case. They have not across the board said, ‘We’re not taking any more transfers,‘” Epley said.

San Antonio, he said, still has about a 20-25% ICU capacity, but the problems isn’t beds. It’s having the staffing to treat those patients, he explains. He said the current surge is about five times worse than the first wave.

“Hospitals can ramp up to be prepared for the onslaught of a pandemic surge,” he said. “But the part that prevents the pandemic surge is at the community level for us to wear masks.”

Owens said Bexar County has lead the way in giving rural communities the power to enforce masks and social distancing guidelines. He hopes that by implementing those types of guidelines in rural communities, they can get a handle on the surge in about three weeks.

“You need to take care of yourself. At the end of the day, some of this responsibility needs to lie on our citizens. You can’t have elected officials writing [ordinances] if our citizens aren’t willing to follow it,” Owens said.

Read also:

Coronavirus update San Antonio, June 25: Single largest daily increase of COVID-19 cases reported in Bexar County

Gov. Abbott suspends elective surgeries in Bexar County

About the Authors

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.

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