Officials with Memorial Hermann spoke to the public Jan. 6 regarding the state of the hospital system across the Houston region, highlighting capacity and staffing issues caused by the coronavirus omicron variant.
Memorial Hermann CEO Justin Kendrick said if the hospital system gets to around 80% capacity, it begins to challenge the ability to provide services. Information provided by Kendrick shows Memorial Hermann Northeast in Humble is operating at 115% capacity, and Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center is operating around 90% capacity.
Kendrick added around 92.5% of patients admitted for the coronavirus are unvaccinated.
“We are feeling that crunch, and it really did come up over the holiday break between Christmas and New Year's,” Kendrick said. “What is different this time is that the omicron variant is impacting everybody, including our staff. It is making staffing incredibly challenging.”
Kendrick added Memorial Hermann is getting help from the state for nursing with around 200 additional nurses coming to the Houston area.
“When you go through a fourth surge like this, the PTSD, the second victim syndrome and mental health really remains top of mind,” Kendrick said. “We have lots of actions and initiatives; we have brought in licensed therapists full time to the campuses. This continues to be a really difficult thing for us to work through.”
Kendrick said Memorial Hermann has reinstated its limited visitor policy due to the contagious nature of the omicron variant.
Dr. Chris Langan, chief medical officer for Memorial Hermann, said the omicron variant spreads 70 times faster than previous variants. However, the new variant is less capable of penetrating deep lung tissue.
“Though it spreads faster, it grows 10 times more slowly in your lung tissue in early studies,” Langan said. “That has been what was killing us.”
Langan noted with the omicron variant, symptoms include fever, coughing, runny nose, nausea and a sore throat. Loss of taste and smell is uncommon with the omicron variant.
“We think the current peak in Texas will be in about two weeks and will carry us through February,” Langan said.
Dr. Amrita Singh, pediatric hospitalist with Texas Children’s Hospital, said the positivity rate for coronavirus in children has increased over the past month, rising from 3% to 34%.
“About a month ago, we had eight patients in the Texas Children’s system with [coronavirus],” Singh said. “Our children numbers are much lower than adults .... Now we have 118 admitted [Jan. 6].”
Singh added the number of pediatric beds for treating children is much lower compared to treating adults.
Memorial Hermann officials encouraged those in attendance at the meeting to get vaccinated, wear masks when around others and to distance when possible as well as following quarantine guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.