As hospitalizations climb, STRAC head says Bexar County still doing ‘OK right now’

Staffed bed availability 10% as of Wednesday

Rising hospitalization numbers mean health officials have to come up with solutions should numbers get worse.

SAN ANTONIO – COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to climb in Bexar County, reaching 663 Wednesday night, but the head of the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council says the county still isn’t in dire straits.

“It’s not perfect, but we’re doing OK today,” Eric Epley said Wednesday. “And we have the playbook that we’ve used in the summer to be able to scale as we need to.”

The county has seen higher hospitalization numbers -- 1,267 at one point in July. If beds get scarce, nurses and respiratory therapists can be brought on through a state contract to create more staffed beds in hospitals. The same contract can be used to man the still-unused alternate care center set up at Freeman Coliseum.

As of Wednesday night, 10% of staffed beds were available in Bexar County hospitals. Available beds are a critical indicator for the pandemic since they represent how many can be used for new COVID-19 patients and people suffering from more commonplace emergencies, such as heart attacks.

“It’s not only for people who may get COVID that it creates a problem,” Epley said. “It creates a problem for someone who could have a medical emergency but doesn’t have COVID, and there’s simply no room at the inn.”

STRAC oversees the regional emergency health system for a 22-county area. Epley says the area around Bexar County is seeing similar trends at its hospitals.

He expects hospitalizations to keep rising, but the question is by how much?

“I don’t know if it’s going to be a steep increase or a gradual increase. I’m hoping for gradual. We plan for steep,” Epley said.

Some of the local health care systems also indicated they were in decent shape for hospital capacity.

Methodist Healthcare System’s Chief Medical Officer said the following in a statement texted to KSAT:

“We have centralized patient placement center staffed with RNs with 24/7, real-time monitoring of capacity across our entire healthcare system. We have robust plans in place that allow us to increase capacity for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients as the demand occurs. We have always done this daily, even prior to the pandemic, as part of standard operations. The new service line of COVID-19 causes us to be a more strategic with our surge units, but we follow the surge plans that were previously put in place.”

A spokeswoman for Baptist Health System emailed the following statement:

“Baptist Health System currently has ample staff and beds necessary to care for all patients, COVID and non-COVID, in our facilities. The state has provided additional nursing resources, and our parent company Tenet Health is supporting our hospitals with resources of PPE and other critical supplies as needed. We continue to provide our community with access to essential hospital services. We ask everyone to help mitigate the spread of the virus in the community by wearing a mask when in public and practicing social distancing and proper hand hygiene.”

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.