Houston-area health system leaders talk progress, hurdles during COVID-19

One local health system leader said he expects everyone, including those under age 65, will have access to the vaccine within the next 90 days. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
One local health system leader said he expects everyone, including those under age 65, will have access to the vaccine within the next 90 days. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

One local health system leader said he expects everyone, including those under age 65, will have access to the vaccine within the next 90 days. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Local health care industry leaders said at a recent Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership panel that they believe the current coronavirus case surge is at or near its peak.

During a panel detailing the state of healthcare amid the pandemic, officials from several health systems, including HCA Houston Healthcare, CHI St. Luke’s Health, UTMB Health and Houston Methodist Hospital, discussed vaccine rollout and recent COVID-19 case trends, among other topics.

However, Steven Foster, South Houston Market President for CHI St. Luke’s Health, said residents must continue exercising caution in their communities as overworked staff deal with increasing coronavirus hospitalizations.

“They’re exhausted,” Foster said of health system staff. “The pandemic is not over, and we must remain vigilant.”

Foster said the current surge was expected to peak Jan. 20. Stephen Jones, UTMB Health’s vice president of health system strategy and CEO of the Clear Lake campus, widened the timeline for a peak to late January through early February.


“Based on the current rates, we all need to be careful,” Jones said. “We need to continue to wear our masks. We need to continue to social distance.”

UTMB’s predictions about the peak of the surge are taking into account the presence of the new, fast-spreading COVID-19 strain that originated in the United Kingdom, Jones said. He agreed with Foster that health care workers are dealing with an uphill battle in the fight against the virus.

“[Dealing with COVID-19] continues to be very challenging. ... Everything from staffing on a daily basis to having beds available to our outpatient clinics that are getting an unbelievable amount of calls per day,” he said.

Vaccine insight

While health care leaders said they consider this to be the third major case surge of the pandemic, systems are “in a much better position” to handle the influx of patients primarily because vaccines are becoming available, according to Dan Newman, Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital CEO.

Todd Caliva, CEO of HCA Houston Healthcare Clear Lake, said he has been very encouraged by the initial rollout as vaccine doses trickle into the Houston area. He said he expects freestanding emergency rooms—another of which will be opening in League City by the end of this year via Houston Methodist—to play a vital role in distributing the vaccines and continue to serve their communities in a post-pandemic world, he added.

“I’m very hopeful that we’re moving in the right direction,” Caliva said.

UTMB researchers are at the forefront of vaccine development, Jones said. They recently teamed up with Pfizer researchers in a study that found the Pfizer vaccine is effective against the U.K. coronavirus variant.

While UTMB anticipates vaccine distribution processes will continue to evolve, Jones encouraged the public to trust the vaccine and get it as soon as possible. He emphasized that health systems are doing everything in their power to provide doses in a safe, timely manner to employees, patients and community members, as well as to keep their facilities safe for those receiving treatment for any illness, but especially COVID-19.

Anyone experiencing symptoms should not wait to get tested and treated because new medical literature increasingly shows earlier treatment is much better long-term for patients, Jones added.

Business and community leaders alike will need to step up to the plate in order for communities to achieve herd immunity, Foster said. Civic, industry and religious leaders will be needed to volunteer at mass vaccination sites, assisting with the registration process or working security details.

About 80% of the procedures needed to administer vaccines are administrative, which means they can be taught to volunteers, Foster said. He likened the logistics of mass vaccination to the way citizens assist in elections, wherein volunteers handle administrative and logistical tasks and professionals handle the official, clinical processes.

Caliva said taking advantage of all available medical spaces as vaccine sites will be vital for an efficient vaccination process. He said he expects everyone, including those under age 65, will have access to the vaccine within the next 90 days.

“I think we're well-equipped in the city with all of our ambulatory sites. It’s just availability of the vaccines coming from the national level,” he said.

By Colleen Ferguson
A native central New Yorker, Colleen Ferguson worked as an editorial intern with the Cy-Fair and Lake Houston | Humble | Kingwood editions of Community Impact before joining the Bay Area team in 2020. Colleen graduated from Syracuse University in 2019, where she worked for the campus's independent student newspaper The Daily Orange, with a degree in Newspaper and Online Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a degree in Spanish language and culture. Colleen previously interned with The Journal News/lohud, where she covered the commute in the greater New York City area.

<

MOST RECENT

Following Gov. Greg Abbott's March 2 announcement that the statewide mask mandate and COVID-19-related business restrictions will be lifted as of March 10, Harris County and city of Houston leaders are weighing in, and local health care providers are urging residents to continue to take precautions. (Courtesy Pexels)
Harris County, Houston leaders call end of statewide mask mandate a 'distraction' from power grid failures

"At best, today’s decision is wishful thinking. At worst, it is a cynical attempt to distract Texans from the failures of state oversight of our power grid," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

Photo from inside a movie theater
Alamo Drafthouse files for bankruptcy, closes theaters in downtown Austin and New Braunfels

Most theaters will remain open under an asset purchase agreement to the company's senior lending partners.

As of 11:30 a.m. on March 2, eight areas across Harris County remained under boil water notice affecting about 2,300 residents. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Thousands in unincorporated Harris County remain under boil notices

As of 11:30 a.m. on March 2, eight areas across Harris County remained under boil water notice affecting about 2,300 residents.

Abbott's Executive Order GA-34 lifts the state's mask mandate, effective March 10, and notes that "public schools may operate as provided by, and under the minimum standard health protocols found in, guidance issued by the Texas Education Agency.” (Courtesy Pexels)
Clear Creek ISD's COVID-19 protocols, including masking, to remain in effect

As of the evening of March 2, all current CCISD public health protocols will remain in effect at district facilities and during district events.

Clear Creek ISD will pay each of its staffers either $250 or $500 by mid-April. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)
Clear Creek ISD to provide staff with one-time COVID-19 payments despite trustee objections

The payments, which are intended to recognize extra risks and efforts associated with working during the pandemic, will cost the district a total of $2.8 million. Trustees Michelle Davis and Scott Bowen opposed the payments due to the timing amid budgetary uncertainty.

frozen tree
One in 4 Houstonians experienced water leaks during winter freeze, new data finds

Houston Public Works fielded 11,000 calls related to water issues during and after the weather event.

The Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market is returning in person for its spring iteration. (Courtesy Jennifer Greene/HoustonBallet)
Houston Nutcracker Market to make in-person return this spring

Of the 150 merchants on the roster, nearly 50 will be making their spring debut in 2021.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced March 2 that mask mandates and business capacity restrictions will be lifted in Texas. (Courtesy Office of the Texas Governor)
Gov. Greg Abbott lifts statewide mask mandate, business restrictions in Texas

With vaccine distribution increasing, Gov. Greg Abbott said "people and businesses don't need the state telling them how to operate." Some local officials are pushing back, saying the relaxed restrictions are coming too early.

Most of the electric grid in Texas is managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which is not linked to other interconnected national electrical systems. (Courtesy Electric Reliability Council of Texas)
Leaving the Texas power grid 'not likely to be an option' for Harris County, official says

Just two weeks after severe winter weather dropped Harris County temperatures below freezing for three consecutive days, which led to widespread power outages, loss of water and the deaths of at least 50 county residents, Harris County Commissioners Court called for major reform at the state level regarding the Texas power grid and related energy policies.

Mayor sylvester turner
Houston expanding vaccine supply as 6,000 Johnson & Johnson doses arrive March 2

The first shipment will be sent to the mass-vaccination site run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency at NRG Stadium. The site vaccinates individuals who sign up for doses though the Houston Health Department’s vaccine waitlist.

Hank's Crab Shack gets and sells several hundred pounds of crawfish daily, especially during the peak of crawfish season. (Morgan Theophil/Community Impact Newspaper)
Hank's Crab Shack serving Katy; 16 Spring-Klein business updates and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

District officials shared storm damage photos at a Feb. 22 board meeting. (Courtesy Clear Creek ISD)
Clear Creek ISD updates: 82% of campuses sustained damage during winter storm, quarantine practices revised

District safety officials briefed trustees at a board meeting Feb. 22 about the extent of damages and gave other details related to CCISD’s storm responses. Of the 42 campuses, 37 sustained damages requiring immediate action, officials said.