Officials in a Florida county are asking residents to consider not calling 911, citing the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals, while officials in Tennessee and Texas said the emergency systems there are being put to the test.
Brevard County’s hospital systems are dealing with a surge in patients and are struggling with the inundation, the county’s emergency director, John Scott, said this week.
Hospitals have already canceled elective surgeries and made other moves to deal with the surge. The latest action is warning against using 911 or the hospitals for non-emergency situations.
“We continue to ask that people use 9-1-1 sparingly for non-emergent issues and to save the ambulances and ER trips for those who urgently need those services. Just being COVID positive but asymptomatic does not always make it a life-threatening emergent condition requiring a trip to the ER,” Brevard County Fire Rescue Chief Mark Schollmeyer said in a statement.
For instance, people seeking a COVID-19 test are being told to go to urgent care, a pharmacy, or a doctor instead of going to the emergency room.
“It is imperative that we pull together, we get through this and slow this curve to relieve the stress on our hospital system and our healthcare system so we can take care of everyone who gets sick,” Scott added.
According to data submitted by Brevard County’s three hospitals to federal officials, they were at or near-capacity in intensive care units.
Cape Canaveral Hospital has about 152 inpatient beds, and on average 109 of them were filled, with 37 being filled with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients. Out of approximately 14 intensive care unit beds, 12 were filled on average. Eight of those were filled by suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients.
Holmes Regional has about 564 inpatient beds, and on average 451 of them were filled, with 95 being filled with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients. Out of 78 intensive care unit beds, 73 were filled on average. Twenty of those were filled by suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients.
Rockledge Regional Medical Center has 170 inpatient beds, and on average 143 of them were filled, with 43 being filled with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients. All of the 36 intensive care unit beds were filled on average, with 16 being filled by suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients.
The data was last submitted on July 30.
Countywide, 32 intensive care unit beds out of 167 were available, according to the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration. About half of the beds as of Aug. 10 were being used by COVID-19 patients, a large increase, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Like most counties in Florida, Brevard has seen a jump in cases in recent weeks. Hospitalizations have also risen, though deaths have not.
Officials in two other states on Thursday also warned that the emergency response system is being pushed to the limit.
For 26 minutes, there were no emergency medical system units available in the city of San Antonio, Texas, City Manager Erik Walsh said during a briefing.
“Because of the volume of COVID calls, which have reached a record level at anytime during the pandemic, we were actually without EMS service for a moment there, and so you see the stress that is occurring in our medical system related to this surge,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg told reporters.
Just 7 percent of hospital beds are available as the number of COVID-19 patients climbs, according to the city.
In a separate press conference in Shelby County, Tennessee, Memphis Fire Chief Gina Sweat said the emergency system “is very, very stressed” and first responders “are running on fumes.”
New hospital admissions for COVID-19 increased by nearly 25 percent between Aug. 5 and Aug. 10 in the county, according to CDC data. The percent of beds and intensive care unit beds used by COVID-19 patients also rose.
Nearly 5,200 calls, or an average of 469 per day, came in to the fire dispatch system in Memphis in the first 11 days of August, according to Sweat. On average, it’s taking 90 minutes to unload a patient from an ambulance to a hospital.
“We have a system that is being overworked and it’s not built to handle this type of call volume. With that additional utilization, there’s [sic] times when you may call for an ambulance and we may not have one available,” she said.
“If you ride an ambulance to the hospital, you’re not going to get seen any faster in that emergency department, you don’t get any privilege, you will be triaged and you will be placed in the waiting room and seen based on your condition and the rate that they can see you—so don’t call an ambulance for a ride to the hospital, it’s not going to help you.”