Texas' freestanding emergency centers have requested the state allow them to provide some nonemergency care during the coronavirus pandemic.

Freestanding emergency centers, or FECs, also known as freestanding emergency medical centers, or FEMCs, provide patients with emergency care in an environment that is structurally separate from a hospital, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. FECs and FEMCs differ from urgent care facilities in that they treat conditions that place a person’s health in serious jeopardy, including severe pain and psychiatric disturbances, according to information from THHSC.

In a July 28 letter to THHSC Commissioner Cecile Young, the Texas Association of Freestanding Emergency Centers asked the department to waive or change two rules related to the operation of FECs.

TAFEC said under the requested changes, FECs would be able to relieve overcrowding in hospitals and reduce the cost of coronavirus testing at their facilities.

Currently, if a nonemergent patient goes to an FEC for a coronavirus test, the visit will be billed as an emergency room visit, which is often more expensive than visits to a doctor’s office or urgent care.

Thousands of Texans have come to our doors in need of a COVID-19 test,” said Dr. Edward Wright, founding member of Prestige Emergency Room in San Antonio, in a TAFEC news release July 29. “Since FECs are not permitted to offer outpatient services, a non-emergent patient that comes only needing a test, could face a much higher charge than expected or even be turned away.”

TAFEC is also requesting the state waive the current reporting provision that requires FECs to file an incident report if they keep a patient for more than 23 hours. Brad Shields, the executive director of TAFEC, wrote in the letter that FECs are being asked to hold patients at their facilities in an effort to keep these patients out of hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Allowing a patient to remain at an FEMC for longer than 23 hours, without penalty or compliance concerns on the operator, would reduce hospital admissions, preserve hospital beds and keep non-COVID-19 patients out of hospitals where they might increase their chances of exposure,” Shields wrote in the letter.

The THHSC had not responded to Community Impact Newspaper's request for comment at the time of publication.

According to the THHSC, there are 189 licensed freestanding emergency medical care facilities throughout the state. Find the full list of licensed freestanding emergency rooms in Texas below.