Houston's only open trauma center burdened by patient load
The Nando Times
By JUAN A. LOZANO, Associated Press
HOUSTON (July 2, 2001 9:56 a.m. EDT) - Sunday was a day of rest for many, but not for the staff at Ben Taub General Hospital.
There's been little rest at the hospital since flooding last month from Tropical Storm Allison severely hampered medical care in Houston and left Ben Taub as the only facility in the nation's fourth-largest city to treat the severest trauma cases.
On Sunday, so many ambulances brought people to the hospital that they had to park in the street because there was no space near the emergency room's entrance.
A woman complaining of chest pains was examined by a doctor in a hallway because all the holding areas and examining rooms overflowed with patients. Then a voice over an intercom system announced that several more patients from a car accident were on their way.
Several floors up, at least eight patients waited to be operated on - but there was barely staff for more than one operating room. Nurses in an intensive care unit tried to care for two and sometimes three critically ill patients, despite guidelines saying they should handle just one patient at a time.
"Last Thursday night, I came close to closing our doors and telling people they had to take their patients to San Antonio or Dallas or Beaumont. But because there's no other option, we haven't done that," Kenneth Mattox, the hospital's chief of staff, said Sunday.
Houston's other trauma center, Memorial Hermann Hospital, has been closed since it was flooded June 8. Two other major emergency rooms - at St. Joseph Hospital and The Methodist Hospital - also remain closed because of flooding. Officials at Memorial say they hope to reopen by mid-July.
The Texas Medical Center, where Ben Taub is located, were also damaged by flooding, but Ben Taub itself was largely spared.
Allison was blamed for 22 deaths in southeast Texas, and an estimated $5 billion damage in Houston. The medical center itself suffered an estimated $2 billion in damage.
A nursing shortage plaguing Ben Taub and other hospitals across the country has been intensified by the increased patient load.
"We're used to working hard, but we can only do so much," said Colleen Mosby, assistant nurse manager in the hospital's emergency department.
The emergency room normally needs a staff of 13 nurses. Sunday night, it was expected to have only nine nurses; on other evenings, that number has dropped to seven.
"The patients just keep coming in," nurse Mary Casper said. "You just cross your fingers and hope you do a good job."
Houston Nurses: What's happening in your facilities? If you are closed, are you still getting paid? Working agency?? Let us know what's happening and if we can help you. Karen