Houston-area hospital system CEO confident it has capacity to respond to coronavirus surge

Health, Fitness & Food

Dr. David Callender, CEO of Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, told CNBC on Friday that its hospitals continue to have adequate capacity despite Texas’ growing coronavirus outbreak. 

“We actually still think we have plenty of capacity to meet the demand for Covid, as well as non-Covid patients” Callender said on “The Exchange.” “We’re always busy in the summertime, and what we’re seeing now is a typical summer for us.” 

Callender, whose not-for-profit health system has 17 hospitals in the Houston area, stressed that the medical network’s capacity is “constantly in flux” and needing to be managed. “But right now, we’re able to do that very well,” he said. 

Callender’s comments came shortly after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott rolled back part of the state’s reopening plans, following a surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks. Bars in the state had to close for on-premise drinking by noon Friday. Starting Monday, restaurants could not exceed 50% dine-in capacity. 

And on Friday, Lina Hidalgo, chief executive of Harris County, where Houston is located, issued a “stay-at-home” advisory and raised the county to the highest threat level for Covid-19. 

As of Friday afternoon, Harris County had 27,017 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 17,350 of which were active, according to the county health department. The Texas Department of State Health Services estimates the state, overall, has about 55,000 active cases of Covid-19

On Thursday, Abbott also temporarily postponed elective medical procedures in some Texas counties to preserve hospital capacity, including Harris, Dallas and Travis, which is home to the city of Austin. Bexar, where San Antonio is located, also was included in Abbott’s order. 

Memorial Hermann Hospital system is seen on the evening on Sunday, May 3, 2020, in Houston.

Matt Patterson | AP

Callender, in explaining his confidence about hospital capacity, said the system is “used to dealing with complex patients” and believes it will be able to adjust to increased demand. 

“Across our system, we have about 4,000 beds that we can bring into play” for intensive care, he said. “Right now, only about 30% are being utilized for Covid care, so we still have plenty of capacity for Covid patients as well as patients who need hospitalization for other illnesses.” 

Doctors and nurses also have learned how to better treat Covid-19 patients after three months of its presence, said Callender, who joined Memorial Hermann in 2019. 

“We’re seeing a slightly lower rate in terms of the number of typical hospital bed patients who convert to a need for ICU hospitalization. We’re also using ventilators less frequently,” he said. “We have more drugs at our disposable that we know help limit the severity and duration of the illness. So overall we’re faring better than we did just a couple months ago.” 

But ultimately, Callender stressed the importance of Texans following public health protocols to prevent becoming infected with Covid-19. 

“We need people to wear masks. We know they’re effective. We’ve stopped the transmission of Covid-19 in our hospitals by wearing masks, maintaining appropriate social distancing, washing our hands and keeping sick employees at home,” he said.

“If we do that,” he added, “we know we can severely limit the spread of this disease.” 

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