Despite reports of the Texas Medical Center’s base intensive care unit capacity at its limits, medical center leadership assured the public in a virtual news conference June 25 that it had surge plans in place to meet the rising need to treat COVID-19 patients.

“The new cases are not eclipsing our capabilities, staff and supplies to meet the demand of our community,” said Dr. David Callender, president and CEO and Memorial Hermann Health System.

The main reason is because member institutions across Texas Medical Center’s nine-county coverage have surge plans in place beyond their base capacities, said Dr. Marc Boom, Houston Methodist’s president and CEO.

“In a pinch, we can bring in place ICU beds on a more limited-time basis,” Boom said.

The press conference came shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order suspending elective surgeries in Bexar, Dallas, Harris and Travis counties, “to ensure hospital bed availability for COVID-19 patients as Texas faces an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” according to the order.

As of June 23, 97% of the medical center’s 1,330 ICU bed base capacity was occupied, 70% by non-COVID-19 patients and 27% by COVID-19 patients, according to TMC data.

However, high capacity levels are nothing new for the medical center, Boom said.

“It is completely normal to have capacities in the 80% and 90%,” he said.

According to data aggregated by the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, on March 18, before the outbreak, hospitals across 24 counties in the Greater Houston area reported 1,964 ICU beds in use out of 2,202 total base capacity, equivalent to 89% utilization.

The medical center does have capacity for at least another 373 ICU beds in case of a surge that can be maintained. If numbers continue to rise, the medical center also has plans in place for an additional 504 ICU beds that can be used on a temporary basis, according to the TMC data.

Boom also alluded to hospitals’ ability to turn regular beds into ICU beds as well as to turn recovery, and pre- and postsurgical areas into ICU areas if needed as a kind of coronavirus “flex area.”

It should be noted that at a 5.6% growth in new ICU patients—which the medical center is experiencing—the medical center would exceed its sustainable surge capacity by July 6, according to TMC projections.

As pointed out by Dr. Doug Lawson, CHI St. Luke’s Health chief executive officer, however, hospitals can increase capacity as needed, sometimes on a daily and weekly basis, and as a result, daily capacity numbers can be misleading.

TMC leadership also put out a plea to all Houstonians to wear masks; social distance; wash hands; and if sick, stay home.

“Please help us help Houston,” Callender said.