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Parkland chief medical officer warns North Texas hospitals will run out of room without attitude shift

“Folks have got to help us out,” said Dr. Joseph Chang.

DALLAS — Dr. Joseph Chang is stressed out, and he isn't keeping that a secret.

As chief medical officer for Dallas County’s only public hospital, he has a constant eye on data.

And a little more than two weeks ago the data started changing.

“As we got past our previous peak, you start to get a little nervous,” he said.

Thirty days ago, Parkland Hospital had 50 COVID-19 patients. As of Thursday, that number was up to 110.

The numbers match trends seen all over the city, county, region and state of Texas.

RELATED: Gov. Abbott issues order that suspends elective surgeries in Harris, Bexar, Dallas, Travis counties

Chang would know.

On the multiple computer monitors he has on his desk, he keeps an eye on multiple dashboards tracking live hospital data.

“We have a dashboard that updates every 15 minutes,” he said. “And I look at it at least three times an hour.”

Credit: Parkland Hospital

Initially, Parkland opened a single unit, called the Tactical Care Unit, in a surgical suite. All of the hospital’s positive coronavirus patients were cared for inside that unit.

A second COVID ward opened a few weeks later.

A third COVID ward opened Thursday because of demand.

Each ward has ICU and non-ICU beds.

In total, those units have room for 165 COVID positive patients. 

The average length of stay at Parkland for a COVID patient who needs to be in ICU is two to three weeks.

Most COVID patients who do not end up in ICU are discharged within a week or less.

“We hope to of course never have to outgrow those wards and then have to put patients elsewhere, because that really is the most efficient and safest way to provide care not only for our patients but also for our employees as well,” Chang said.

Two additional floors with 30 to 40 negative pressure rooms could be converted to COVID care if needed, Chang said. 

He is confident the hospital is well-stocked with ventilators and is doing “pretty well” with personal protective equipment, or PPE, like masks, gowns and gloves.

His biggest stressor is something that is out of his control.

Watch below for all of Dr. Chang's impassioned plea to the public: 

“What I am worried about is that all of our friends that live in the community are treating this as no big deal,” he said.

“I don’t know how to get people convinced that this is a real problem, but what I can say is this: we’re sitting here right now in a hospital talking about not taking care of some people so that we have room to take care of these people.”

“That is against everything that we hold sacred for our profession - to have to choose between who we take care of. And we’re actually having those conversations.”

While Parkland says a greater proportion of its COVID-19 patients are now between 18 and 50 years old, deaths are still predominately in patients who are 65 plus.

Chang said it is common for Parkland to be at or near 100% full when we are not in the middle of a pandemic. 

So reaching capacity isn’t his greatest fear. Exceeding it is.

“My worry is that people pay so little attention that cases blow by even what we are prepared for,” Chang said. 

“At some point, we are all going to run out of room – not just my hospital – everyone’s. That’s the message that’s got to get out there. Folks have got to help us out,” he said.

How can people help? Not by delivering food to the doctors and nurses working tirelessly on the front lines, Chang said.

“Wear your mask. Wash your hands. That’s really how people can help,” he said.

Chang is exasperated by the number of North Texans he sees taking a cavalier attitude.

“This is for real,” he said, “and for anyone to not believe this is happening - I don’t know what else there is to say. I really don’t.”

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