Respiratory Illnesses Overwhelming ERs


Emergency Room Sign | Image by Shutterstock

Some area emergency rooms have been overwhelmed as hospitals continue to witness the “triple threat” of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), flu, and COVID-19 cases proliferating across North Texas.

Over the past month, Medical City Denton’s emergency department has witnessed seven times more positive influenza tests and 20% more complaints related to respiratory issues.

Fortunately, Medical City Denton’s emergency department has not seen its wait times grow. According to the hospital’s spokesperson Dana Long, the emergency department is “well equipped.”

Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, meanwhile, revealed that its emergency department has been inundated with patients, driving wait times of up to 10 hours. As a result, the hospital activated an internal disaster code requesting outside support.

Cook Children’s Medical Center spokesperson Wini King stated, “The sheer volume has made finding a bed for our patients a daily logistical puzzle.”

In some hospitals, admitted patients are held in the emergency department for extended periods of time because no inpatient beds are available. Known as “boarding,” this issue has existed for over a decade, according to the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA).

The recent influx of patients with flu and respiratory illnesses has only exacerbated the problem, which the organization said has been driven to a crisis point by staffing shortages.

“While the causes of ED (emergency department) boarding are multifactorial, unprecedented, and rising, staffing shortages throughout the health care system have recently brought this issue to a crisis point, further spiraling the stress and burnout driving the current exodus of excellent physicians, nurses and other health care professionals,” the association recently wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden.

The ENA and 33 other medical associations are urging the federal government to prioritize the resource shortage, emphasizing the lack of beds.

ED boarding is not only resulting in poor patient outcomes, medical errors, and delays, according to the letter, but it is also straining emergency staff, already burnt-out following years of pandemic work. As a result, hospitals are reportedly facing an exodus of nurses and physicians who feel they cannot perform their job properly.

According to one doctor quoted in the letter, “Physicians are unhappy as it feels like we can’t provide the care we want to, the care we went into medicine for… we are drowning, stressed, and we need help — desperately.”

The ENA lays the blame on the mismanagement of funding. According to the group, incentives are “misaligned,” leading to bed additions in less critical areas, such as elective admissions, and leaving emergency staff to tend to critically ill patients in ER waiting rooms.

While the challenges North Texas medical professionals face are substantial, hospitals in the region are working to improve the current state of affairs.

“We’re expediting our number of staff we have here at the hospital; we’re doing everything we can to hire on more people and open up more areas within our hospital to accommodate the families that are presenting to our door,” said Dr. Dan Guzman, an emergency room physician at Cook Children’s Medical Center.

Texas Health Resources has not commented on the impact of the surge in respiratory illnesses on its hospital system, but it is seeking to address the nursing shortage in the area by building a new nursing college in Richardson, as previously reported in The Dallas Express.

And in Rockwall, Texas Health Presbyterian is doubling the size of its facilities, including an expansion of its emergency and ICU departments.

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