Your hometown hospital has a bustling campus with new construction touching every department in the facility as we add services and beds in an exciting 3-year, $92m expansion project. While that happy, mammoth endeavor unfolds there is a separate whirlwind of activity creating its own chaos. New walls have appeared overnight in places we had not imagined or planned. New equipment, supplies and furniture arrive many times a day in numbers not previously imagined. Unfamiliar faces of caregivers requested from the State are beginning to appear to provide some overdue relief for weary, frustrated nurses and respiratory therapists who have spent countless hours battling an invisible foe for nine long months while terrified for their own lives.

What you are about to read may shock you and could scare you into believing it is best not to seek care right now but let me assure you that is not the intent.  We remain committed and able to provide care for our community and have reserved space for emergent conditions of all kinds.  We also have full supplies of PPE and strong, proven safety processes to protect everyone. I implore you to continue to prioritize your health needs and especially that which calls for immediate attention.  However, what I want to do is give you a real picture of what the pandemic is doing and to impress upon you that taking personal action and responsibility is at a critical need.

Patients arrive in the usual numbers for emergency care, but there is a distinct difference in their needs. They are isolated immediately from the rest and their story unfolds in what is now a familiar story. Most are in utter disbelief that they “have it” and struggle mightily to accept their new reality.

Their physicians are astonished at the now-predictable yet devastating toll the invisible monster wreaks on their bodies. Other caregivers prepare a bed, special equipment and massive amounts of medications and supplies for them in what once were private rooms, now made semi-private to accommodate the historic increase in admissions and acuity.

Nurses and respiratory therapists don their now-familiar but still bulky and uncomfortable battle gear to provide care while attempting to protect themselves and others from the inevitable spread of infection that this invisible foe has perfected. These professionals apply various devices that are uncomfortable but desperately needed merely to help them breathe.

A growing number of these patients struggle valiantly but fail with those less-invasive devices. With terror-filled eyes and no family support present, they beg for the relief of a tube to be inserted into their airway and a ventilator to breathe for them while they enter an unconscious state. With aggressive treatment, most will get better in a few weeks and return home with after-affects ranging from “not noticeable” to “life altering”. Others are not so fortunate.

There is not much time to celebrate the successes or grieve the losses though….there are many others waiting to fill their bed with the same disbelief that “it” has happened to them. COVID-19 positive admissions today fill 75% of our beds. The occupancy rate here at your hospital as of this writing is 120%. That means we currently have 72 patients needing one of our 60 beds. Our previous record was earlier this year in July. Since then, we have seen an 86% increase testing positively for COVID-19. From November 1 alone, the increase is 104%.

Other patients are here without COVID-19 but are drastically affected by it all the same. They arrive with chest pain or stroke for emergency care. They are cared for immediately utilizing well-defined protocols and their condition is stabilized. Because Texas Health Rockwall is not the only hospital being overrun during this pandemic, transferring these patients to higher levels of care is becoming a real problem. Over the past few weeks, we have found it necessary to transfer our patients all the way to northern Tarrant and Denton counties to receive the care needed for those conditions. Projections now indicate that within a week there will be no ICU beds available in the entire Metroplex.   

We expressed concern months ago.

Our caregivers have gone on record asking you to do what you can to contain the virus. We expressed concern in public forums based on facts and our first-hand experience in the hospital. We asked you then to follow CDC guidelines: wear a mask, socially distance, stay out of mass gatherings, and wash your hands. We encouraged you to figure out a way to live with this virus while keeping our businesses open. Some figured it out. Others have stubbornly resisted. Now we have 72 people needing beds in our 60-bed hospital while the rest of the Metroplex hospitals fill up.

We are asking again that for the safety of everyone you help us slow this surge.

Hear our nurses and others who echo these sentiments all over the US. Forget the politics of those who are not walking hospital hallways daily and instead look at the faces of those who have for 9 months. I implore you to wear a mask, limit gatherings, wash your hands and behave responsibly. Doing so is an inconvenience…that we can all agree on, but it is simply the only thing to do.

There are many things in life we cannot control, but our attitude and the impact this virus has on our businesses, schools, churches and families is well within our control.