EDINBURG, Texas (KVEO) — As hospitals begin to deal with the increase of COVID-19 patients following the holidays, the number of ICU beds available continues to dwindle.
Several Trauma Service Areas (TSAs) near the Rio Grande Valley are down to their last ICU hospital beds. The three most TSAs (U,T, and V) have a combined population of 2,311,678 people.
Trauma Service Area U, which is centered around Corpus Christi, has 21 ICU beds.
Trauma Service Area T, which is centered around Laredo, has none.
In the Rio Grande Valley, which is Trauma Service Area V, there are currently 56 ICU beds available.
Businesses in the Rio Grande Valley have been at 50% capacity for over a week.
That reduction should start slowing the amount of new hospitalizations going forward, but the number of ICU beds available is expected to continue to decrease for some time as people who are just now getting sick become more ill.
Cameron and Hidalgo Counties have the most amount of ICU beds due to their population sizes. Even in those counties, vacant beds are becoming scarce.
“In Cameron, there’s 131 ICU beds, and 126 are full,” said Dr. James Castillo, the Cameron County Health Authority.
Dr. Ivan Melendez, Hidalgo County Health Authority, didn’t have an exact number for KVEO, but said that “as of today, we’re not in danger of running out of a physical plan, or appropriate ventilators, personal protective equipment. We are stressed about human resources.”
ICU beds are reserved for patients who need more substantial care than normal hospital patients. “If you’re in the ICU, it means that your treating physician feels that within hours or a day or so you’ll die without intensive care,” explained Dr. Castillo.
In the ICU, each nurse is responsible for only two patients. ICU nurses care for fewer patients, because the patients they are caring for require more work to ensure they remain stable, healthy, and eventually recover.
Because the level of care in the ICU is so high, filling up the ICU beds puts a strain on nurses, doctors and other staff who care for patients there.
“Nobody wants to compromise quality,” said Dr. Castillo, “but human beings have their limits.”
There lies the real danger, overworking healthcare workers to the point they either don’t have time to care for all the patients present, or the quality of care is diminished due to being stretched so thin.
“It’s not reasonable to say ‘we’ll keep going’ until they break,” said Castillo.
For the sake of overworked hospital staff, health experts are asking people to strictly follow CDC guidelines and only go out when necessary.
“Quite frankly, I don’t see a significant modification of people’s behavior during this pandemic, in our part of the world, in our community,” said Dr. Melendez. “It has improved, but far from where it needs to be.”
If people don’t start doing a better job of following those guidelines, the consequences could be disastrous.
“Don’t choose to keep doing whatever [you] want, thinking that the hospital will be if they get very sick. That’s a mistake right now,” said Dr. Castillo.