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“We Are Beyond Capacity,” Says Midland Hospital Executive

Hospitals in the Permian Basin are overloaded with COVID-19 patients, as multiple facilities face staffing shortages and vaccination rates have largely plateaued below the state-wide average. 

In an interview with Marfa Public Radio, one hospital executive in Midland describes the ongoing challenge, saying some patients have expressed regrets about not getting vaccinated.

By Travis Bubenik

Hospitals in the Permian Basin continue to struggle with an influx of COVID-19 patients and a lack of enough doctors and nurses to care for them.

The warnings from hospital leaders have become increasingly dire in recent days.

“People need to be scared,” Russell Meyers, CEO of Midland Memorial Hospital, said on Monday. “This not only is overwhelming the hospital and our resources, but it’s squeezing out our ability to care for people in our own community and in the communities around us.”

At an emergency press briefing Monday night, leaders with Odessa’s Medical Center Hospital said they were treating more than 87 patients for COVID-19 and would begin treating patients in parking lot tents if the number grows to 95 or higher.

“We're at max capacity on our beds,” the Odessa hospital’s CEO Russell Tippin said. “Our nursing staff is at max capacity, our doctor staff is at max.”

In an interview with Marfa Public Radio, the Midland hospital’s chief nursing officer Kit Bredimus described the recent surge and what he’s hearing from patients. 

Here are some highlights from the conversation.

The situation in Midland emergency rooms

“We are seeing incredible demand for services,” Bredimus said. “Yesterday alone, we saw well over 200 individuals through our emergency department.”

Midland Memorial is not yet moving toward a repeat of using outdoor tents to treat COVID-19 patients.

Staffing shortages remain the hospital’s biggest challenge. 

“Even if we were to deploy tents, we would still need staff to operate those tents, and that is our biggest pinch right now,” Bredimus said.

Midland’s hospital is not taking patients from other, smaller hospitals across the region

“Right now, we are closed to out-of-country transfers, simply for the fact that we are beyond capacity,” Bredimus said.

Hospitals in the Odessa-Midland region often take in patients from more far-flung communities like the Big Bend region who need access to higher-level care. But when those hospitals fill up, they’re forced to close their doors to transfers.

“So when we are at max capacity, it also puts a strain on our community partners,” Bredimus said.

COVID-19 patients in Midland are skewing younger than before, and most are unvaccinated

“We are starting to see a little bit more of individuals who wish they had gotten the shot, or were fixing to get the shot,” Bredimus said. “There is definitely some regret.”

Still, health workers are starting to see an uptick in vaccinations as more families become directly impacted by the disease.

“I think that’s what really hits home for a lot of folks,” Bredimus said. “When it’s your family member who gets COVID, and you have to go visit them in the hospital, or you’re not able to visit them...it’s what really strikes home.”

Vaccine hesitancy remains a challenge

Vaccination rates in Midland and Ector counties for people 12 and older are still below 40%, compared to the statewide rate of about 55%.

“I do believe that individuals know the need to get vaccinated,” Bredimus said. “So at this point it’s either a convenience factor, which is one of the things I hear...and then there’s also just a contingency that are just adamantly opposed and will not get vaccinated.”

Hospital leaders have chosen to focus on those in the former group and those that are “on the fence,” as Bredimus put it, by continuing to hold free vaccination clinics when the staffing is available.

The state is helping, but the hospital could use more support

Bredimus said Midland Memorial Health is set to receive a deployment of additional medical workers on Wednesday. Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott said he would send more than 2,500 health workers to hospitals across the state, according to the Texas Tribune.

“Unfortunately, it is not everything we had requested to be able to fully operate,” Bredimus said. “But it is a welcomed advance of something we didn’t expect we were going to get anyways.”

He said the help from the state will allow the hospital to expand its bed capacity by 12.

“I don’t know of any facility that got its full contingency of what was asked for, but any help is welcomed,” Bredimus said.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.