Amid COVID-19 spike rural Central Texas hospital struggles to find beds for seriously ill patients; search extends beyond the state’s borders

Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 8:02 PM CDT
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CLIFTON, Texas (KWTX) - At Goodall Witcher Hospital in Clifton, they say their hospital is not currently overrun with COVID-19 patients, however for those too sick for them to care for, they say every day is a struggle to find an available bed in the region, state, or surrounding states.

Chief Nursing Officer, Joycesarah McCabe flips through a binder with numbers for every hospital in the state, she’s called them all, in an effort to find available intensive care unit beds for patients at her hospital.

“We have no beds, and then that’s the end of the conversation. Some will say ‘we are closed, we are on full divert, we’ve been on full divert for two weeks,’” McCabe explains.

She says she understands that other hospitals are likely stressed just as much as they are.

“Sometimes on the other end of the phone you get someone that says, ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.’ Because they know we are desperate,” McCabe explained.

While they have the ability to aggressively fight COVID-19 at Goodall Witcher, their resources can only go so far for some patients.

“When a patient needs ICU, we don’t currently have ICU, so we have to transfer them,” CEO Adam Willmann said Tuesday.

The hospital currently only has two ventilators, one is used in the ER and a third was just approved by the state and should arrive by the end of the day.

Justin Squyres is a physician at the hospital and says its frustrating when they don’t have the ability to treat a patient, and those who do don’t have the staffed beds to take them.

“I need a place they can go to get the care they need. They need a pulmonologist, they need a critical care doc,” Squyres said. “”I want to be able to look them in the eye and say ‘yes I’m going to be able to help you I’m going to be able to get you to the specialist or the doctor or the facility that you need to’ be at but right now all I can say is, ‘I hope we have a bed available’, because we probably don’t.”

Tuesday, their fight to find available beds for two patients continued. One with COVID, the other needing ICU for other medical reasons.

“This is my patient, its my responsibility to find them a bed and I’m going to find them a bed,” McCabe said.

“So we call every hospital in our region that has an ICU, then [when they don’t have beds,] we call our neighbors and call everyone in the regions next to us. Then we call the regions next to them, and then pretty soon we’re calling Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico,” McCabe explained.

She says she’s also made calls to Arizona, Missouri and Nevada.

“I get on the phone and say ‘please help me save a life today. I have a man that is dearly loved by his family and he really needs someone to help him, please help me help him,’” McCabe said.

“I’m just thinking, who’s going to say yes? Who will say yes, but of course the other part is how am I going to get them there?”

“When you go to the state website and it shows ICU beds available. Those numbers are horribly incorrect,” Squyres explained.

“We’ve called hospitals from the Gulf Coast to the Red River and there are no available beds. None,” he said.

Squyres has worked at Goodall Witcher for seven years, he was born at the hospital and says the patients he sees aren’t just a number.

“As a rural doctor these aren’t just patients they are friends and family,” Squyres said.

The hospital staff has lost many people to COVID that were relatives to others on the staff.

“A nurse, a sonographer and one of our physicians all lost someone either Saturday or Sunday to COVID. The youngest was 21, the oldest was 38,” McCabe explained.

Just last week, it hit home for Squyres.

“I lost my brother on Saturday. We waited five days for an ICU bed and it never happened,” Squyres said fighting back tears.

He says his brother Josh got the best care that was available to him at the time. He wasn’t at Goodall Witcher but McCabe says they were trying to make room for him before he passed.

“I have no way of knowing if an ICU bed would have saved him,” Squyres said. “But he’s not the only one, there are so many others.”

Willmann says the lack of resources is weighing on his staff.

“Its really stressful on my staff. You can see it in their eyes you can feel their stress when you walk with them,” he explained.

They’re in need of resources, not necessarily to their facility, but to others in the region more capable of running large ICUs.

“Why don’t we have the portable beds set up? Why aren’t we setting up convention centers with hospital beds?” Squyres said.

Squyres says he’s made calls to several local and state representatives to try and get help, but so far hasn’t heard anything promising.

As they continue to fight the staff stressed the importance of staying together as a community and not placing blame on one side or the other.

“I wish this was about fear mongering,” McCabe said after hearing what some in the community thought of a recent interview she did with CNN. “I wish this was about drama, gosh because at the end of the day I could go home and people would still be alive.”

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