Parkland sees unprecedented patient load

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on January 5, 2012 at 7:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 5 at 7:17 PM

Parkland Hospital

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DALLAS -- A packed house is nothing new to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, which serves Dallas County's poor.

But Wednesday, overcrowding reached a critical level.

Every one of the 968 hospital beds was taken.

The emergency room was shut down to all outside ambulance traffic. Even trauma patients had to be diverted to other hospitals.

The burn and psychiatric units closed to new patients as did the neo-natal ICU, which cares for the sickest of newborns.

"There's no space at all," said Dr. Thomas Royer, hospital interim CEO. "Every space is filled. Every bed upstairs is filled except for a few on the surgical side which we have to keep for trauma."

Dr. Royer calls the number of patients unprecedented.

The influx began just after New Year's. By Wednesday, the hospital had reached what's known as a "red divert" level. But Dr. Royer believes the record patient load isn't linked to the increased federal regulations that Parkland is under orders to follow.

"I have to say it's due to some reason that the uninsured have increased in numbers," speculated Dr. Royer.

He wonders if people who have lost unemployment benefits or whose insurance was discontinued after the first of January are finding themselves at Parkland for the first time.

On Wednesday, Parkland's emergency room was busy, it saw 682 patients. At one point, more than 200 crammed the ER. 200 people waiting at once is a record number.

In comparison, Methodist medical center sees about 165 people in 24 hours.

Baylor Dallas treats about 300.

By Thursday morning, Parkland was again accepting burn and trauma patients. Worried the situation will only get worse when flu season hits, they are urging people who use the emergency room for non-urgent reasons to use a community healthcare clinic instead.

"Our concern is January is always our busiest month and February,” Dr. Royer said. “But it's occurred earlier than we would anticipate and it's not being driven by the respiratory illnesses we typically see."

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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