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100 percent of regular ICU beds in Texas Medical Center occupied, but hospitals have space for surge

A little over a quarter of the ICU beds are taken by COVID-19 patents, and hospitals are converting regular rooms to critical care.

HOUSTON — All regular ICU beds in the Texas Medical Center are now being used, according to numbers just released on the TMC website, but officials say they can add more.

Hospitals in Houston's Medical Center will now move some ICU patients to beds not normally used for critical care.

Twenty-eight percent of the ICU patients are being treated for COVID-19.

Despite reaching surge capacity, four hospital CEOs said Thursday there's no cause for "unwarranted alarm."

Those same CEOs signed a letter to Houstonians Wednesday warning, "If this trend continues, our hospital system capacity will become overwhelmed."

Dr. Marc Boom explained in a virtual news conference Thursday that the purpose of the letter was to "urge people to do the right things in the community and do so by talking about capacity, but really ended up unintentionally sounding an alarm bell too loudly about capacity."

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

RELATED: Texas has nearly 6,000 new COVID-19 cases today, as Gov. Abbott pauses reopening

The average ICU occupancy rate at the world's largest medical center is 70 to 80 percent, but higher rates aren't unheard of.

"It is completely normal for us to have ICU capacities that run in the 80s and 90s," Methodist Hospital CEO Dr. Marc Boom said. "That's how all hospitals operate."

Boom said what is different now is that more than one in four ICU patients have COVID-19, forcing hospitals to shift the balance of care. 

“We are watching numbers increase. We are seeing more people in the community with the disease. So we know we will need to take care of more individuals. That obviously cannot go on forever, so we need the community to do the right things to bend this curve right now," said Dr. Boom.

They said the majority of hospitalizations they are now seeing are coming from younger people, but most patients don't stay at the hospitals long and are less likely to die from COVID.

All of the CEOs said Thursday their hospitals are equipped with plenty of PPE and ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients.

“The spread is increasing and it’s very concerning. However, our hospitals are okay and ready to manage this surge effectively and appropriately," said Dr. Doug Lawson, CEO of CHI St. Luke's Health, CHI. "The reality is our capacity to care for those patients significantly exceeds what we’re staffing on any given day."

Lawson said that while the hospitals have enough beds, equipment, and staff to handle this first level of "sustainable surge capacity," they would need to contract out more health care workers from out-of-state if the need becomes greater.

The concern from Texas Medical Center leaders is that the current rate of people getting sick with COVID-19 and going to the hospital would become unsustainable if it persists.

RELATED: 'Continues to worsen' | Houston's health authority concerned as Texas Medical Center's ICU beds near surge capacity

RELATED: What does hospital surge capacity mean?

Thursday morning, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an Executive Order to ensure hospital bed availability for COVID-19 patients as the number of cases increase at an alarming rate. 

The governor’s order suspends elective surgeries at hospitals in Harris, Bexar, Dallas and Travis counties.

That's bad news for hospitals that have already taken a huge financial hit because elective surgeries are where they make the most money.