As ICU beds become scarce, Texas cities send COVID-19 patients to El Paso hospitals
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include statements from Las Palmas Del Sol Healthcare and University Medical Center of El Paso.
Hospitals across Texas are running out of room for their COVID-19 intensive care unit patients, causing some to look to El Paso-area hospitals to transfer them.
Amid another surge of COVID-19 infections in a state where the vaccination rate is below 45% for those 12 years old and older, The Hospitals of Providence started receiving ICU patients from outside El Paso.
"All transfers are reviewed on a case by case basis based on acuity and capacity," a statement from officials at The Hospitals of Providence read. "We are closely monitoring all hospitalizations and will make the necessary adjustments to be able to respond to an increase in COVID hospitalizations as we begin to see a rise in our community."
Dr. Carlo Hatem, a pulmonologist at The Hospitals of Providence, said they've been getting requests for patient transfers across Texas from cities such as Beaumont, more than 800 miles away.
"All of it is full — no bed availability from Lubbock all the way to Dallas and San Antonio," Hatem said. "We're trying to help them."
A Las Palmas Del Sol Healthcare official said they hadn't had any significant transfers or hospitalizations. However, they have treated cases of the delta variant.
Ryan Mielke, a spokesman for University Medical Center of El Paso, said they are not providing care for any transfer patients at the moment.
"What we have seen is a high volume of non-COVID patients, which we attribute to delayed care," Mielke said. "That delayed care means we are seeing sicker patients who are being hospitalized longer."
Texas now has the fewest ICU beds available since the start of the pandemic.
El Paso-area hospital ICU rates, however, aren't in as dire of a situation.
According to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, more than 30 patients with COVID-19 are currently in intensive care for the coronavirus.
More than 260 patients are occupying spaces within El Paso County's ICUs, leaving 26 ICU beds available — not the fewest the county has experienced. That was on Oct. 16, 2020, when the county had seven beds available.
Of the eight hospitals that provide data on their ICU occupancy rates, according to the El Paso Times' COVID-19 Hospital Capacity in El Paso County and Surrounding Area data dashboard, three are above a seven-day average occupancy rate over 90% while the rest range from percentages in the low 70s to mid-80s.
El Paso, like the rest of Texas, also is reporting an increase in new COVID-19 infections. On June 17, the county was reporting a seven-day average of 10 cases a day. By Aug. 10, the county's seven-day average increased to almost 120 new cases a day.
On Wednesday, El Paso County reported six more COVID-19 deaths, raising the total to 2,737, with 1,383 active cases and 89 COVID-19 hospitalizations, including 32 patients in ICU and 18 on ventilators. There were 105 new positive cases, raising the total to 139,330.