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Cook Children's to halt non-emergency surgeries due to staff, bed shortages from COVID surge

Pediatric beds are needed and "with no end in sight, the situation is dire," officials said Thursday

FORT WORTH, Texas — Cook Children's Medical Center will halt elective, non-emergency surgeries due to staff and bed shortages from the COVID surge, the Fort Worth hospital announced Thursday. It has already been rerouting staff from the rest of the hospital to care for patients. 

The hospital system has seen an influx of patients, especially in their emergency rooms and urgent care locations. Cook Children's is canceling elective procedures to free up bed space for all patients. Those elective surgeries would not be able to be scheduled until Oct. 11, at the earliest.

Prior to Thursday, the hospital was evaluating elective surgeries on a case-by-case basis. 

"As more and more inpatient beds are needed with no end in sight, the situation is dire, and this strategy will no longer suffice," Cook Children's said in a statement. "There are only so many beds available, and we must provide room for critically ill children who must be hospitalized."

The hospital said it is having to cope, now, beyond canceling elective surgeries. Some specialty medical units have been shut down and turned into COVID units, officials said Thursday. 

There are just six pediatric ICU beds available in the North Texas region that serves more than 8 million people, according to data from the state health department. The region has had fewer than 10 beds available since school started back in Mid-August.

The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend all students and staff wear masks and 250 Cook Children’s healthcare workers sent a letter to districts saying they’re needed.

Governor Greg Abbott has blocked districts from requiring them and Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing several districts that have defied Abbott's order.

Cook Children's is seeing up to 600 patients a day in the emergency room, which is more than double the normal level, said Cheryl Petersen, the chief nursing officer.

"Asking any patient to consent to surgery means there’s a need - a need for health improvement or well-being or restoration of health. So, there’s a purpose," Petersen said. “This is a very serious decision - a very serious evaluation of what may continue and what may be postponed.”

The hospital said it has also had to divert patients to border states because of a lack of space. 

“It’s unfortunate that we are physically unable to care for all of the children who need us right now," Petersen said. "If we have to divert a patient away from Cook Children’s, we ensure we find them an appropriate facility, though that may be several hours away from home or even in another state."

On Wednesday, Tarrant County health officials reported there were no pediatric hospital beds available. More kids with COVID and RSV are filling up beds.

“It is kind of a chaotic. Almost like you’re in a mass disaster, which is what we are," Petersen said. "I’m scared. I have never seen so many ill children with COVID or such a full hospital in my 27 years here in Fort Worth. Never.”

The exact number of total occupied pediatric beds was not released, though officials with Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth said Wednesday that all 43 of their intensive care beds are full. Ten of those beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, according to the hospital.

The limited pediatric hospital beds aren't just in Tarrant County. The state is sending in additional staff to North Texas to help assist with the rise in cases.

As of Monday, there were 52 children systemwide who were hospitalized with COVID-19 at Children's Health, which has locations in Dallas and Frisco.

Doctors ask for parents' help

On Sept. 1, several physicians from Cook Children's begged for parent's help as the hospital became overwhelmed. The doctors and leaders shared that they were triaging patients who showed up to the emergency room.

The doctors said more mask-wearing and more eligible people need to get vaccinated to stop the spread.

During that news conference, the doctors asked parents to take their children to their primary care doctor if they have minor COVID symptoms rather than to the urgent care and emergency room locations, which were experiencing extreme wait times.

Cook Children's is seeing more severe illness now than at any point during the pandemic, said Medical Director of Infectious Diseases Mary Whitworth on Sept. 1.

On Aug. 30, Cook Children's opened a third COVID unit for the first time during the pandemic. It had nine hospital beds. Within 24 hours, they were all full.

"Unlike previous surges in this pandemic, more children and adolescents are being hospitalized with this Delta variant," said D-FW Hospital Council CEO Stephen Love earlier this month

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all students and staff wear masks while at school. Two-hundred-fifty Cook Children’s healthcare workers sent a letter to districts saying they’re needed.

Gov. Greg Abbott has blocked districts from requiring them. The attorney general is suing those who do.

“If we can do a couple of things - including masking and including vaccines - but a couple of things to keep ourselves and our children safer, why not do it?" Petersen asked. "Why not?”

More than 100 children in North Texas are hospitalized with COVID-19, more than double the winter peak - and it’s been that way for two weeks.

"Please get the COVID-19 vaccine for yourself and all eligible children," Cook Children's said in a statement. "It is safe and effective. In fact, half of the COVID-19 patients we have treated since the vaccine was approved for children 12 and up have been unvaccinated teenagers. To date, we have not treated a single vaccinated patient for severe COVID-19."

Cook Children's shared some other steps they recommended parents take to help slow the spread of this virus:

  • Send children to school in a mask. Ask them to keep it on at all times unless outside or eating.
  • All children in school over age 2 should be masking indoors. School districts should strive for universal masking right now.
  • Quarantine all children who come in contact with a COVID-positive child if unmasked and for longer than 15 minutes indoors.
  • Please keep sick children home from school.
  • Postpone indoor gatherings.
  • If anyone has to gather, go outside.
  • Limit the number of people who can attend sporting or theatrical events at schools so there can be spacing between families.
  • Stay at least six feet away from others outside of immediate family.