Texas hospital CEO: COVID inpatient count 'misinterpreted,' level of alarm 'unwarranted'

In Texas, focal point of national anxiety about a coronavirus 'second wave,' the state counts every COVID-positive hospital patient as a hospitalization for COVID itself, which may be exaggerating numbers.

Published: June 25, 2020 2:52pm

Updated: June 25, 2020 11:35pm

Health officials in Texas are logging every single COVID-19-positive hospital patient in the state as a COVID-19 hospitalization, even if the patients themselves are admitted seeking treatment for something other than the coronavirus. 

That policy may be serving to artificially inflate what ostensibly seems like a significant COVID-19 surge in the state. Texas has lately been the focal point of national anxiety over concerns that a "second wave" of the coronavirus has begun there after the state began reopening nearly two months ago. 

COVID-19 hospitalizations there have been on a steady upward track for about the last two weeks, per the state's coronavirus dashboard, which on Thursday recorded about 4,400 coronavirus hospitalizations in the state. But at least part of that trend may be due to liberal coding policies by state officials. 

Lindsey Rosales, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, confirmed to Just the News this week that the state is categorizing every inpatient in the state with a positive COVID-19 test as a COVID-19 hospitalization. 

"The number of hospitalized patients includes patients with a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 even if the person is admitted to the hospital for a different reason," Rosales said. 

Asked if inpatients in the state are tested for COVID-19 whenever they arrive for treatment, Rosales said, "Hospitals set their own protocols for determining when and if to test patients for COVID-19."

She said the state does not keep track of the patients hospitalized with the coronavirus versus those hospitalized specifically because of it. 

Texas Health Resources, one of the state's largest hospital systems, says on its website that its "patients [are] tested before most procedures." Elective surgeries and other medical procedures in Texas have gone up in recent weeks as the state has gradually re-opened following its lockdown. 

Amid worry, major hospital leaders stress calm

Queries to multiple Texas hospital officials this week went unanswered. But leaders of several major hospitals in Houston this week urged the public to remain calm, suggesting that the extent of the outbreak has been overstated. 

At a virtual press conference on Thursday, the chief executives of Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann Health System, St. Luke’s Health, and Texas Children’s hospitals stated that their hospitals are well-prepared to handle an even greater increase in patients than that which has emerged over the past few weeks. 

The number of hospitalizations are "being misinterpreted," said Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom, "and, quite frankly, we’re concerned that there is a level of alarm in the community that is unwarranted right now."

"We do have the capacity to care for many more patients, and have lots of fluidity and ability to manage," Boom said.

He pointed out that his hospital one year ago was at 95% ICU capacity, similar to the numbers the hospital is seeing today. "It is completely normal for us to have ICU capacities that run in the 80s and 90s," he said. "That's how all hospitals operate." 

He noted that around 25% of ICU patients are COVID-19-positive. But the hospital "[has] many levers in our ability to adjust our ICU," he said, claiming that the hospital capacity regularly reported by the media is "base" capacity rather than surge capacity. 

Texas Children's Hospital CEO Mark Wallace added that his facility has "a lot of capacity."

"We have the ability to take care of all of the Houstonians that need a critical care environment, that need to be operated on, or acute care," Wallace said.

"There is not a scenario, in my opinion, where the demand for our beds ... would eclipse our capability," he continued. "I cannot imagine that. I just cannot."

As of Thursday afternoon, Texas had around 13,000 open hospital beds statewide. 

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