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As hospitals in the San Antonio area see a devastating surge in patients with COVID-19, a bipartisan group of area lawmakers is calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to send more health workers to alleviate a staffing shortage amid the Omicron wave.
“If we have a big surge because people are refusing to get vaccinated or to wear masks, we need help,” Senator José Menéndez said. “As head of state, as CEO of state, he [Abbott] gotta get up and find a way to help us.”
An Abbott representative referred a request for comment to the Texas Department of State Health Services, which did not respond Friday.
Officials in major Texas metropolitan areas are scrambling to find medical workers to deal with a surge in patients with COVID-19 being fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant. Healthcare worker burnout, attrition from the industry and infection among employees have weighed on hospitals as they deal with a huge influx of new COVID-19 patients.
As of Friday evening, hospitals in the San Antonio area held more than 1,000 corona patients — More than five times the number of such patients in hospital beds in the region as of Dec. 24, according to city data.
Meanwhile, hundreds of nurses at Bexar County hospitals are sick every day as they too contract the virus, according to a letter co-written by Menéndez, a Democrat.and 13 other regional lawmakers — including Republicans Donna Campbell and Steve Allison.
It’s unclear how many additional health workers the region would need to address staff shortages amid the Omicron surge. Last week Abbott sent about 411 nurses and respiratory therapists to Bexar County hospitals — but that’s not enough, local officials said.
“Given the statements by experts that the Omicron variant has not yet peaked, we will continue to see a dramatic increase in cases,” the letter reads. “Additional help is needed to keep our hospital systems afloat and to care for patients during a hospital stay.”
The bipartisan letter supports a similar request made earlier this week by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who warned hospitals in the area could soon be overwhelmed if no more help coming soon.
“We will quickly reach capacity in our hospitals as the intake of COVID-19 patients continues to increase rapidly,” Nirenberg and Wolff wrote to Abbott on Monday.
Meanwhile, healthcare workers are experiencing a sense of deja vu from previous waves. At the University of San Antonio health system, many employees have been asked to take extra shifts and work multiple days in a row without a day off, spokeswoman Elizabeth Allen said.
As was the case at the beginning of the pandemic, the public hospital system has had to postpone non-emergency elective surgeries. But employees are under pressure – dealing with typical health emergencies such as heart attacks, car accidents and strokes, as well as the rise of COVID-19.
“It’s almost like we’ve come full circle in a weird way,” Allen said.