North Texas hospitals prepare for possible rise in coronavirus cases

Hospitals across the area are preparing for a possible increase in the number of cases of the new coronavirus. (Courtesy Medical City Plano)
Hospitals across the area are preparing for a possible increase in the number of cases of the new coronavirus. (Courtesy Medical City Plano)

Hospitals across the area are preparing for a possible increase in the number of cases of the new coronavirus. (Courtesy Medical City Plano)

Dozens of North Texas hospitals are bracing for a possible rise in the number of new coronavirus patients in the coming weeks, discussing a wide range of scenarios to prepare for the strain the fast-spreading illness can place on health systems.

The area’s hospitals have been exploring capacity expansion options, stockpiling protective equipment for medical personnel and working with government authorities to slow the spread of the virus, said Stephen Love, president and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council.

“We certainly feel we have enough [resources] now, and we can certainly handle increased volume,” Love said. “But I wish I knew what the volume was going to be three weeks from now, and I could give you a much better answer.”

Many of the hospital council’s 90 members are part of large hospital systems, such as Medical City Healthcare, Children’s Health and Baylor Scott & White Health. These systems have material managers and purchasing organizations that have been monitoring the situation for months, Love said.

Hospitals in the Children’s Health system announced this week they were rescheduling nonemergency appointments and surgeries that had been on the calendar through April 9.

Medical City hospitals were offering free virtual screenings for the COVID-19 virus to determine a person’s risk level. People with nonemergency symptoms who are concerned about whether they have the new virus have been told to consult with their primary care physician instead of going to the emergency room—an effort to prevent unnecessary crowding.

But beyond the immediate future, hospitals have also been planning for more extreme contingencies like those that have played out in other countries. In the event of a surge in new cases that exceeds existing capacity, hospitals are prepared to convert existing unused beds for critical care, set up tents or use vacant buildings that could be quickly outfitted for medical treatment, Love said.

For now, the council of 90 local hospitals is not sharing capacity statistics publicly, Love said. That policy would change if the circumstances worsened substantially, he added.

“We’ve got the capacity we need [for now],” he said. “If it surges up or it increases or it becomes very high, we’re going to be very forthcoming and talk to the public. But at this point we’re not going to release any statistics on beds that are available, respirators or anything like that.”

Although hospitals are working to increase their capacity to treat people with the virus, those measures would still be insufficient in some scenarios where the virus spreads to a much larger share of the population in a short amount of time, infectious disease experts have said.

The hospital council has been supportive of local and state efforts to “flatten the curve,” or limit social interaction in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, Love said. These social distancing measures are largely intended to prevent hospital overcrowding.

Hospitals have consulted with infectious disease experts to try to estimate likely outcomes, Love said. In part because of limited testing in the area, it is difficult to know how far the virus has already spread, lending uncertainty to how many people may need hospitalization at a given time.

“Here, as you know, we’ve put in [precautionary policies] to flatten to curve,” Love said. “Did we do it soon enough? Only time will tell.”
By Daniel Houston
Daniel Houston covers city government, transportation, business and education for Community Impact Newspaper in Lewisville, Flower Mound and Highland Village. A Fort Worth native and Baylor University graduate, Daniel reported previously for The Associated Press in Oklahoma City and The Dallas Morning News.


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