'Each Day It's More And More': Houston Hospital Makes Room For COVID-19 Surge Cases

Jun 30, 2020
Originally published on June 30, 2020 2:09 pm

Hospitals in Texas are inundated by coronavirus patients. On Monday, the state reported almost 6,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19. That's a record, as cases spike following the state's reopening of bars, restaurants and stores in early May. Because of this latest surge, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently reversed the reopening, closing bars and cutting restaurant capacity.

Houston Methodist Hospital — the flagship hospital of the Houston Methodist system — has enough beds, says Roberta Schwartz, who holds multiple executive positions at the hospital, including chief innovation officer. But that's because she's making room at the expense of other services.

"If you look within the hospital, what it looks and feels like here right now is that every day I am clearing out another unit and I am putting in COVID patients," she says. She says she has seen an uptick in cases at the hospital since just after Memorial Day.

Here are excerpts of Schwartz's Morning Edition conversation.

On making room for COVID-19 patients

So when we were at the point where the volumes of COVID were down, we were able to open up many of our other services. And what we found when we opened up a lot of our services is that many people had waited for a very long time to seek medical care and they were very sick. And so we were able to treat many of those patients both in clinics and in the hospital. ... We kind of looked at each other and said we should never do that again. We should never close down all of our services, because it was detrimental to the health of Houston. It was dangerous for people to wait to seek needed care.

And so what's been very hard is to yesterday send out yet another series of notes closing down services further because we have no choice, because we have to transition units into COVID to take care of the population. So do we have the beds? Yes. Fortunately, at this point, we have not had to put up tents or field hospitals, but each day it's more and more.

On seeing videos and pictures from across Texas of people in bars and not social distancing

On one hand, there are so many people who believe that this is not reality, that what you're hearing is made up or false, and I want to take them all and walk them through an ICU to see a husband and wife laying side by side intubated or seeing a 26-year-old with no comorbidities who is laying in a hospital bed for 14 days in an intubated state and say, "It is very real."

There's a little bit of Russian roulette. You could be fine and have a sore throat and walk through this. Or you could end up in one of my units. And you don't know which one you will be.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Many of the states that reopened restaurants, bars and stores are seeing COVID-19 cases spike. Now, that includes the state of Texas. Hospitals there are being inundated by coronavirus patients. Yesterday, Texas reported almost 6,000 people hospitalized with COVID. That is an unfortunate record for the state. Houston and surrounding Harris County currently have the most cases in Texas. Roberta Schwartz is the chief innovation officer at Houston Methodist Hospital. She's with us now. Good morning, Roberta.

ROBERTA SCHWARTZ: Good morning.

KING: When COVID-19 surged along the East Coast, in New York City in particular, we saw frightening scenes from hospitals there. What does it look like at Houston Methodist?

SCHWARTZ: So Houston Methodist has now had two surges of COVID. And when it was surging up in the Northeast, Texas actually closed down, having watched what was happening in the Northeast. So our surge went up, and we went up. And at Houston Methodist, we had cases kind of in the mid-200s. We then saw, right after Memorial Day - we saw the cases start to go up. And unfortunately, right now, we're seeing no leveling.

So if you look within the hospital, what it looks and feels like here right now is that every day, I am clearing out another unit, and I am putting in COVID patients. And we are watching - we've watched this mountain and line graph grow to twice the size of where it was in the first surge.

KING: Although what I do hear you saying as a positive is that you have enough units currently. Do I have that right? It sounds like the hospital is not overwhelmed.

SCHWARTZ: So when we were at the point where the volumes of COVID were down, we were able to open up many of our other services. And what we found when we opened up a lot of our services is that many people had waited for a very long time to seek medical care, and they were very sick. And so we were able to treat many of those patients both in clinics and in the hospital and in all of our services.

We kind of looked at each other and said we should never do that again. We should never close down all of our services because it was detrimental to the health of Houston. It was dangerous for people to wait to seek needed care. And so what's been very hard is to, you know, yesterday, send out yet another series of notes closing down services further because we have no choice because we have to transition units into COVID to take care of the population.

So do we have the beds? Yes. Fortunately, at this point, we have not had to put up tents or field hospitals. But each day it's more and more. And I keep saying if we're not careful here - I'm not advocating for a lockdown, but if we do not go back to a point where we isolate and hand hygiene and mask everywhere, we will be in the position that New York was.

KING: There are videos and pictures from across Texas that show people in bars and in restaurants without masks, not social distancing. When you see that, what goes through your mind?

SCHWARTZ: You know, on one hand, there are so many people who believe that this is not reality, that what you're hearing is made up or false. And I want to take them all and walk them through an ICU to see husband and wife laying side by side intubated or seeing a 26-year-old with no comorbidities who is laying in a hospital bed, you know, for 14 days in an intubated state and say it is very real. There's a little bit of Russian roulette. You could be fine and have a sore throat and walk through this, or you could end up in one of my units, and you don't know which one you will be.

KING: Roberta Schwartz of Houston Methodist Hospital, thank you.

SCHWARTZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.