COVID-19 patients waiting in ERs for hospital beds, San Antonio doctors say

Doctors urge recovered patients to donate convalescent plasma

Doctors warn that local hospitals are running short on beds, anti-virals, and convalescent plasma

SAN ANTONIO – A group of doctors from the Methodist Healthcare System warn that the COVID-19 hospitalization situation is worse than official reports are showing.

The official numbers from Sunday night, which were the most recent when the doctors held their press conference on Monday afternoon, showed 27% of the Bexar County’s 4,713 staffed hospital beds were available. However, Dr. Jairo Melo, director of Critical Care for the Methodist Healthcare System, said there are patients waiting in emergency rooms for hospital beds - either in or out of intensive care.

“This has been going on for the last three or four days, which is just the beginning of our crisis,” Melo said.

Melo said that at that moment, there were 21 COVID-19 patients waiting in the Methodist Hospital Emergency Room for a bed.

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Associate Director of Critical Care, Dr. Charles Burch, said patients get beds, but “it’s dependent on people recovering and being able to be discharged. So we’re handling the situation now, but when we look at the daily numbers of COVID infections increasing so rapidly, that’s going to lead to more hospitalizations.”

A spokeswoman for Methodist Healthcare said Monday night that the doctors had organized the press conference on their own and it was not done with the knowledge or consent of Methodist Healthcare.

Asked at Monday night’s brief about the apparent discrepancy between what the doctors were seeing and the reported number of beds available, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said that the number of available beds was from across the entire hospital system.

“From one facility to the next, that may not be the case. So we certainly would want to work with Methodist in their own load management in their own facility, but you know, in terms of the overall system capacity, that’s what we’re reporting each night,” Nirenberg said.

However, Melo said the waits were “in all the ERs,” not just at Methodist.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said officials are trying to increase the hospital capacity, mentioning allocating more unused hospital space for COVID patients and bringing in hundreds of critical care nurses with the help of the Department of Defense.

“You got a lot of physical beds, but we need more help,” Wolff said.

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A field hospital of sorts has been set up at Freeman Coliseum in case of hospital overflow, with Nirenberg saying there are 250 beds on the floor ready to go. However, the facility has not yet been activated.

The site would not be for COVID-19 patients, but rather for lesser injured hospital patients and those recovering from surgeries.

Melo said that beyond beds, they are also seeing a shortage of anti-viral medications and convalescent plasma.

The convalescent plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients contains antibodies that could help people who are still fighting the disease. You can find more information on donating it here.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.