Texas recruits more out-of-state medical staff as surge comes close to past pandemic peaks

Texas Politics

Notes to medical personnel hang in an area as nurses prepare to ender a COVID-19 unit at Starr County Memorial Hospital in Rio Grande City, Texas. As the coronavirus pandemic surges across the nation and infections and hospitalizations rise, medical administrators are scrambling to find enough nursing help — especially in rural areas and at small hospitals. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — This week, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the state would be sending an extra 2,500 medical personnel to hospitals across Texas, bringing the total to 8,100.

As of Friday, the state has deployed 4,105 of the 8,100 across the state. It’s broken down by region, pictured below.

Number of medical personnel deployed across Texas (KXAN graphic)
Number of medical personnel deployed across Texas (KXAN graphic)

This comes as Texas could see record-breaking hospitalizations in the coming week.

“The thing about this surge is that it may actually surpass the previous surges in terms of the number of people who get sick and need to go to the hospital,” Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt told Nexstar on Friday.

Hellerstedt also noted how quickly this surge has happened, which has made response more difficult.

“Instead of having a happening over several weeks, like previous surges had, this really happened over a much shorter period of time, four to six weeks at most,” Hellerstedt explained, adding it’s made it harder to recruit more personnel.

“We try to recruit the extra staff from out of state. So we’ve not been, you know, again, fighting against ourselves and diminishing the folks within the state that can provide this help,” Hellerstedt said.

DSHS is not able to meet all requests though. There are requests for 15,132 personnel across the state, nearly double the allocated 8,100.

“We want to with the resources that we have, we want to be as fair and equitable across the state as we can. So unfortunately, that means that we’re not really able to completely fulfill every request,” Hellerstedt explained.

That’s why DSHS is still depending on Texans to curb the spread, and the governor still vows not to allow any more mask or vaccine mandates.

“The governor is very aware of the science, the governor is very aware of the actions that people can take. He has set a policy though, where he wants people to understand them and to adopt them as a matter of personal responsibility,” Hellerstedt said.

“The governor has remained in regular contact with Dr. Hellerstedt, Chief Kidd, and Dr. Zerwas since the beginning of the pandemic and continues to work closely with them and the teams at DSHS and TDEM to get shots in arms and provide support to communities across the state,” Renae Eze, a spokesperson for the governor, said Friday.

Local leaders and democrats point out that strategy isn’t working anymore.

“I would love it if everyone always did the right thing, and we didn’t need police forces. We didn’t need any kind of emergency response. We didn’t need courts, we didn’t need public health officials, because everybody was doing the right thing all the time. But we know that that’s not the case,” State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) said Friday.

She filed bills this session that would take a more preventative approach.

“It would add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of K-12 required vaccines for the coming school year in the same way pertussis and meningitis are included in that list, with the very same opt-out as well,” Eckhardt explained.

She criticized the governor’s reactive response during this surge.

“We’re not seeing indecision, we’re seeing a committed and aggressive inaction at the executive level. At the very least, it’s more expensive and less efficient. At the very worst, it’s deadly. And we have seen that it is quite deadly,” Eckhardt said.

While DSHS and the governor continue promoting the vaccine and masking up, Hellerstedt said the governor is weighing multiple factors.

“Science can advise, but it’s not really the role of science to decide. Because in the end, it is about balancing, suppressing the disease with enabling people to put food on the table,” Hellerstedt said.

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