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Midland Memorial Pushed To Limits As COVID-19 Surge Intensifies

As healthcare providers work to treat the sick in Midland, staffing shortages are making it harder for Midland Memorial Hospital to provide quality care to patients.

Bringing one hospital official to the point of calling the current situation a “crisis.”

By Mitch Borden

West Texans are being hospitalized for COVID-19 in numbers doctors and nurses haven’t seen in months. In the Permian Basin, Midland Memorial Hospital and Medical Center Hospital, the region’s two major medical facilities, went from treating just a handful of coronavirus patients at the beginning of July to now seeing wards filling up fast.

The shrinking hospital capacity comes as the delta variant of the coronavirus is sweeping across the United States, causing health officials to plead with people to get vaccinated and to mask up once again. Plus, - some hospitals are seeing staffing shortages that could make this surge worse than anything seen last year. 

In a recent virtual press conference, officials at Midland Memorial urgently asked locals to get vaccinated if they are eligible while they also detailed how the hospital’s wards are filled to capacity and medical staff are stretched thin. 

The young and unvaccinated are driving Midland’s current COVID spike.

  • On Thursday, Midland Memorial had about 56 patients who were being treated or were recovering from COVID-19. Eleven were on ventilators. The majority of those hospitalized were under 60 years old, according to hospital staff. 
  • According to Midland health officials, the majority of those being hospitalized are unvaccinated and many are young. “We are seeing sicker younger patients, many of whom are ending up on ventilators,” said Midland Memorial’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Larry Wilson said.
  • As of Thursday, Wilson said four people had died due to COVID-19 in the last week, the youngest being 28 years old.
  • Only about 38% of Midland County residents 12 years old and up have been fully vaccinated, but 66% of locals who are 65 or older have gotten all of their shots  — which officials believe is the reason so many younger people are currently falling ill.
  • Dr. Wilson told reporters and the public that COVID-19 vaccines are the best tool healthcare providers have to fight the current wave in cases.

    “I can’t tell you how many times I've had people coming in now infected and their family members say ‘can we get vaccinated right now?” said Wilson. “ I mean, they all are not believing that this is happening until they see someone sick.”

  • Midland Memorial is offering COVID-19 vaccines at its West Campus every Friday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“We are in a crisis,” Staffing shortages plague Midland Memorial and hospitals across the nation.

  • Midland Memorial’s Chief Nursing Officer Kit Bredimus said the surge in cases is forcing wards to fill up, and the hospital is unable to transfer patients out or find traveling nurses, along with other medical staff, to expand capacity for more patients. “We are in a crisis. We are suffering from the inability to gain staff," said Bredimus. "I’ve been asked why we don’t just hire more staff or just offer more — we are.”
  • During Thursday’s press conference Bredimus said Midland Memorial had 50 positions to fill to be able to fully staff another isolation ward. He went on to describe a conversation he had with a traveling nurse agency that has 1,000 employees but 40,000 requests from around the country. 
  • According to Bredimus, in some wards at the Midland Memorial, there are eight patients for every one nurse working 
  • Midland Memorial, along with other hospitals across Texas, does not have access to the same resources that were available during the worst parts of the pandemic last year.

    Traveling nurses provided by FEMA were a constant presence at the hospital during its peak in cases last year. But now Bredimus said the state is telling health officials that finding additional personnel to handle the current surge is being left to individual facilities at this time. 

As beds fill and staff shortages continue the level of care at Midland Memorial is deteriorating.

  • Due to staffing shortages, wards across the hospital are filling quickly and some patients are being kept in areas they wouldn’t normally be held. The emergency room is currently holding some patients for longer than 24 hours and there have been cases where critical care units couldn’t house patients who were in critical condition.

    Some staff are also being forced to work outside of their specialties, which health officials said can cause problems.“Staffing resources being incredibly limited do cause delays, they do cause errors in some cases where we're having to use nurses in areas they are not accustomed to working in,” said Bredimus.

  • Midland Memorial is finding it nearly impossible to find open beds at other hospitals where patients could be transferred. According to Dr. Wilson, when the hospital needed to transfer out a recent patient, the only bed they could find was at a hospital in Colorado.
Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.