Palo Pinto General Hospital

There were at least 9,151 hospitalized patients in Texas with confirmed COVID-19 infections on Thursday, as reported by The Texas Tribune, but nailing down the numbers locally has proven difficult.

At Palo Pinto General Hospital, Director of Marketing Megan Hudson said the hospital had one open COVID-19 bed in the Intensive Care Unit and three available beds in the COVID-19 unit as of Thursday morning. PPGH has a total of six COVID beds in its ICU and 13 beds in its COVID unit.

While the numbers fluctuate on a daily basis in the county — which has a population of a little more than 29,000 — the hospital reached maximum capacity in late November in both its COVID-19 and ICU units.

In Parker County, officials would not comment on the number of beds available for COVID-19 patients or how many are hospitalized after repeated requests by the Weatherford Democrat.

Parker County Emergency Management Coordinator Sean Hughes and local health authority Dr. Steven Welch referred the Weatherford Democrat to the hospital directly or the Emergency Medical Coordination Center. A EMCC spokesperson said the center was unable to provide specific bed count information regarding individual hospitals and/or hospital systems.

Medical City Weatherford and Fort Worth Director of Community and Public Relations Tommy Dold would not answer specific questions regarding hospital capacity, saying the healthcare provider only reports COVID-19 information to the appropriate government agencies “to remain consistent with their hospital system and numbers provided to authorities.”

“We are closely monitoring rises in COVID-19 positive cases and related hospitalizations across North Texas and Medical City Weatherford continuously evaluates resources, including bed capacity, staffing and PPE — all of which remain at strong levels — to support our community’s healthcare needs,” Dold said. “We urge everyone to stay vigilant in protecting their own health as well as the health of family members, healthcare providers and our community by practicing proven tactics, including wearing a mask, frequent hand washing, maintaining social distancing and staying home when sick.”

When asked why there was no comment on the current number of COVID-19 beds or patients currently hospitalized, Medical City Weatherford CEO Sean Kamber said the situation is dynamic.

“We’re prepared for the number of patients that present each and every day and we’re prepared each and every day for what each one of those patients have going on for themselves,” Kamber said. “I don’t know that any hospital in the Metro area and throughout the region are really publicly commenting on that. We’re keeping up with all the normal preparations as we have in the past.”

Attorney Jim Hemphill, a board member and president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said there should be no legal barriers to the release of that information, as long as it doesn’t disclose any personally identifiable health information.

“Information on hospital beds, number of cases and other cumulative information is very important to the public’s awareness of the status of this pandemic,” Hemphill said. “It’s vitally important that the public knows these things.”

Parker County Judge Pat Deen said he does believe everybody needs to be transparent with the information.

“The most important thing of all, other than keeping our people alive, is to assure them and make sure they have information. To not know anything is extremely dangerous and so I want to get that information out there,” he said. “I can tell you as of our last meeting in the commissioners court we were at 6.76%, so we were the second lowest in 13 counties in North Texas in terms of percentages of hospitalized patients with COVID.”

At the last meeting of the Parker County Commissioners Court on Nov. 23, Hughes said there were five patients in Parker County hospitals. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, there were 2,545 people in the hospital as of Dec. 3 in Trauma Service Area E, which includes Parker County and Palo Pinto County as well as 17 others. As of Dec. 3, there were 155 available ICU beds in the service area, 1,616 available hospital beds and 1,820 available ventilators. Trauma Service Area E has an estimated population of 8,080,080.

Deen added that because there is a hospital capacity issue in Tarrant County, they’re trying to keep Parker County residents admitted locally.

“Being transparent, while our numbers are good here with Medical City, I think it would extremely naive to think that there’s not a Parker County resident in some Tarrant County hospital,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a big problem, but I do believe if you go to the doctor and you’re going to have to go to the hospital, they’re going to put you in Medical City because we have the capacity to do so and treat those patients with the care that they need.”

Hughes said they are continuing to work diligently with Medical City Weatherford, the Texas Department of State Health Services, the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council and the Texas Division of Emergency Management in monitoring all facets of the situation.

“We are continuing to see an increase in cases and it is critically important that everyone follow the recommendations of the CDC and the Texas Department of State Health Services to protect yourself and others,” Welch added.

When COVID-19 cases rose back in July, The Texas Tribune reported that getting information on hospital capacity was nearly impossible.

According to the article, the state wasn’t releasing the information it collects about how many beds individual hospitals have and that only a fraction of the state’s hospitals, cities and counties are providing that information to the public on their own.

Additionally, data for individual hospitals or counties is not made public “because hospitals within trauma services areas coordinate to ensure their communities have necessary care, and because people often cross county lines to get hospital care,” DSHS spokesperson Chris Van Deusen told the Tribune.

Earlier this week, the White House Coronavirus Task Force acknowledged that state and local policies in Texas and around the country could be underplaying the severity of the virus and urged public health officials to take their case to the public, reported The Texas Tribune. “The COVID risk to all Americans is at a historic high. We are in a very dangerous place due to the current, extremely high COVID baseline and limited hospital capacity.

“If state and local policies do not reflect the seriousness of the current situation, all public health officials must alert the state population directly.”

As of Dec. 3, Parker County had 452 active cases of COVID-19, 73 deaths and 3,970 total recoveries. There have been 38,214 tests administered in the county.

Palo Pinto County had a total of 1,316 positive cases as of Dec. 4 with 3,813 negative results and 112 pending.

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