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Overwhelmed Harris Health System may be forced to make hard decisions on which patients get treatment

Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, president and CEO of Harris Health, said patients in need of ICU beds have had to wait up to 40 hours in the emergency room.

HOUSTON — It’s been a week since extra help arrived to alleviate nurses who are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients in the Harris Health System hospitals. Gov. Greg Abbott requested 2,500 out-of-state nurses earlier this month to help overloaded hospitals across the state.

RELATED: 100 nurses and therapists arrive at Harris Health to help over overloaded hospitals

Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, president and CEO of Harris Health, said patients in need of ICU beds have had to wait up to 40 hours in the emergency room because there wasn’t enough critical care staff to help.

Ben Taub and Lyndon B. Johnson hospitals evenly split a total of 80 nurses and 20 respiratory therapists.

Porsa said the extra nurses have allowed them to double their ICU capacity from 16 to 32 beds at each hospital.

However, the situation is getting worse as hospitalizations continue to go up because of COVID-19. Porsa puts on a brave front as his hospitals continue to be overrun with patients. He’s aware some patients aren’t getting the care they deserve.

“So I go home and I tell my wife about some of the patients that are waiting in our emergency rooms,” Porsa said. “She starts crying and I start crying. We have a stage 4 breast cancer patient who needs care. She has been in our emergency room for more than 24 hours.”

Porsa said at one point they had 130 people in the waiting room. He said they’re working to provide ICU-level care to as many patients as possible.

“We are creating ICU beds out of the nontraditional spaces. Specifically the units we call PAC-U, that’s post-anesthesia care units,” Porsa said.

Despite Harris Health getting 100 out-of-state nurses to help with staff shortages, COVID-19 tents outside of LBJ hospitals remain empty because there are not enough doctors to care for patients.

“As the situation gets worse, one of the things we’re going to be forced to do is to actually shut down some of the clinics, pull those providers inside hospitals to provide the services inside the tents,” Porsa said.

He said resources are not unlimited. Porsa said they’re approaching a critical situation where doctors and nurses may potentially have to ration care because there are just too many patients.

“Some of them, we as clinicians know, that they have very little chance of making it. There’s going to be some very tough decisions that have to be made about who’s going to receive the care,” he said.

He said the sad reality is some people are going to die in emergency rooms waiting for care.