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Central Texas lawmaker says he’ll do what he can to help struggling rural hospital amid COVID-19 surge

Two other lawmakers didn’t respond to calls Wednesday
Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 7:55 PM CDT
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CLIFTON, Texas (KWTX) – Goodall Witcher Hospital in Clifton, whose pleas to area lawmakers for help amid the surge in COVID-19 cases have fallen on deaf ears, now has the attention of a state senator.

Dr. Justin Squyres, who’s on the hospital’s staff, told KWTX Tuesday he’s frustrated local lawmakers aren’t helping to provide resources to relieve a shortage of staffed hospital beds in Texas.

“I contacted some of our elected officials here and really didn’t get a good answer,” Squyres said.

“I get asked ‘are you sure the hospitals are full?’ ‘Are sure its all COVID?’”

On Wednesday, KWTX attempted to contact U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, and State Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, all of whom represent Bosque County.

Only Birdwell had responded by Wednesday afternoon.

He said he hadn’t heard from the hospital about its struggles until this week.

Goodall Witcher doesn’t have an intensive care unit and is equipped with just two ventilators, one of which is used in the emergency room. A third was just approved by the state and was expected to arrive this week.

Seriously ill patients can be stabilized at the hospital, but then must be transferred to bigger facilities, which right now is a challenge, given the pressure those hospitals are under because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

Birdwell said Wednesday he has called hospital CEO Adam Willmann to learn more about Goodall Witcher’s needs.

He said his next call would be to the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, Nim Kidd.

“I don’t know that I can get the resources necessary, but I do know I can knock on the director of emergency management’s door a lot easier than he can,” Birdwell said.

But while Birdwell says he can pass along information to Kidd about the hospital’s challenges, he can’t guarantee anything will happen.

“There are staff people available that generally can staff hospitals,” Birdwell said.

“When I spoke to Nim Kidd earlier he said they do have healthcare providers that are able to be dispatched to hospitals for additional nursing staff. But that’s not what [Goodall Witcher] needs, (Willmann) needs someone to staff but staff with the right skillset,” Birdwell said.

Kidd, Birdwell said, may not have the resources Goodall Witcher needs.

Kidd could recommend to Gov. Greg Abbott to active National Guard troops to provide assistance.

“I don’t know that he’ll make that recommendation,” Birdwell said.

“The challenge is whenever you activate a guard unit, a military unit that is not active duty, you have to make the decision because you are taking staff from one area to consolidate them into a military organization as a temporary structure,” Birdwell said.

“People who are nurses in a guard unit are also nurses in our civilian hospitals so what’s the impact to our local hospitals if you activate that circumstance?”

Squyres remains frustrated.

“I don’t understand, why is this now a major problem and we’re not acknowledging that it’s a major problem. That’s huge,” he said

“I’m not saying I need an ICU in Clifton, Texas but we need to figure out staffing and we need to find a place to put patients,” he said.

Staff members at Goodall Witcher say they make dozens of calls a day trying to find hospitals with ICUs that can take patients needing advanced care.

“We prepared last year for people coming in,” Squyres said.

“We had extra rooms in our old ICU and it never happened. This time around it’s here”

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