State health advisor shares insight on supply chain strike force on hospital capacity, preparedness

State health advisor shares insight on supply chain strike force on hospital capacity, preparedness

AUSTIN, Texas – Dr. John Zerwas, who advises Governor Greg Abbott and the supply chain strike force on hospital capacity and preparedness, spoke with Don Brubaker about the latest on the fight against COVID-19. Zerwas is executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs at the University of Texas System.

Don: Thank you for being with us. We thank you for your time. We know you’re very busy, so let’s get right to the questions. And here’s the first one with over 10,000 COVID-19 patients being in Texas hospitals. How strained are hospitals in this state due to the pandemic?

Zerwas: Well, they certainly are very busy at this time. So what we’re seeing though is a flattening of the number of patients in the hospital. Uh, now this is a very encouraging sign, but, uh, this many patients in the hospital with, uh, COVID-19 is certainly a strain on the system, but the system is standing up incredibly well. Uh, we’re looking forward to seeing those numbers obviously decrease, but in the meantime, I’ve had several days where at least statewide, we did not see any increases. Our significant increases in hospitalizations is a very encouraging sign

Don: Doctor. How much more can the state do to help South Texas hospitals?

Zerwas: South Texas hospitals are probably strained more than any at this particular time. If you looked at Corpus Christi, Victoria on down into the valley, uh, we’re seeing, you know, a very, very significant surge of patients down there. We’re seeing the hospitals really filled to capacity. Uh, one of the biggest limiting factors for them. And it’s true that all hospitals that get hit by the surge of patients are the manpower. So through our private resources, as well as through the department of defense and certain public resources, we’ve been able to flood well over 2000 people down into the region in order to provide manpower for opening up additional beds and additional ICU capacity, uh, but also to provide some very welcome relief to those people that have been on the front lines for so many days, hour after hour shift, after shift taking care of, uh, what typically are very sick patients,

Don: Doctor, how much has it helped to have five us navy teams working with hospitals in the real grand valley this week?

Zerwas: That has been, again, a very welcome relief along with, uh, all the many other, uh, personnel that have come in. The Department of Defense. The Army has been down in there. We have had people from HHS come down, serve the area. Teams have been there, they’ve come and gone. Uh, but clearly the largest, uh, contingency of the manpower has been the private resources that we’ve been able to garner by working with certain agencies that we have a relationship with, uh, and pulling people from out of the state, into the region. And again, providing this very, very needed manpower.

Don: How much has Governor Abbott suspension of elective surgeries in hospitals helped with hospital room for COVID-19 patients?

Zerwas: Well, I think the governor has taken a very proactive look at this and it has definitely has been something that has helped, uh, you know, he’s looked at where, you know, elective surgeries might take up in a hospital bed or an ICU bed and says, hey, let’s cut back on those things. And, hospitals have done that. Um, it’s still allowed for the elective procedures to be done that don’t require a hospital bed such as ambulatory surgery or endoscopy suites, if you will. Uh, those things have been able to go on as usual because they don’t affect the capacity, uh, within the hospitals themselves. Uh, but it was a very, it was a very proactive move by the governor. And, uh, it just like, uh, his very strong, urgent, proactive masking directive, uh, early part of July. Uh, I think that’s very contributory to the fact that, uh, you know, we’re seeing some flattening of the curves at this point and we’re seeing the ability to accommodate the, uh, the patients in our hospital systems.

Don: Finally, Doctor. You have said that Texas has a shortage of supplies for testing. How key is it to get those supplies to increase COVID-19 testing in the state?

Zerwas: Yes. Testing is obviously still a very, very important part of the whole management of the pandemic. Uh, we have a lot of what I would call platforms to run tests. We have a lot of ability to acquire the specimens and the samples to run, uh, for COVID-19. Uh, but what we’re really realizing now is the shortage is something called reagents. And these are chemicals that are needed in order to effectively run the tests on the various platforms out there. They’re obviously in demand statewide, but they’re in demand nationwide. And to some extent, uh, even across the entire world. So, uh, we are working hard with the manufacturers of these reagents that are very typically, you know, for the specific platform that you’re running the test on. And so we’re continuing to work. I know that the governor has had lots of conversations directly with manufacturers, as well as the vice president, uh, expressing the need to have these reagents on board.

Don: Thank you so much and best of health to you and our fellow Texans.