State moves to expand hospital resources in coronavirus pandemic

As the number of COVID-19 cases in Texas has increased, Gov. Abbott has issued multiple executive orders intended to expand hospital bed capacity and make personal protective equipment more available for health care workers.

Under authority of the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, Gov. Abbott on March 13 declared COVID-19 posed an imminent threat of disaster for all Texas counties. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) on March 19 determined that COVID-19 is a public health disaster as defined in Health and Safety Code ch. 81.

Hospital capacity. Gov. Abbott announced on March 25 the waiving of certain hospital licensing regulations, allowing hospitals to administer and operate additional facilities more than 30 miles away from the primary licensed hospital. Also, certain health care facilities that have pending licenses, as well as previously closed facilities, may operate under the authority of an emergency rule adopted by the Health and Human Services Commission. With an increased demand for hospital beds in Texas, Gov. Abbott on March 22 ordered hospitals to postpone all surgeries and procedures that are not medically necessary.

With decreased revenue streams, some rural hospitals have requested additional financial support to cover the costs associated with COVID-19. The commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) requested about $40.8 million in emergency funding for the state’s 163 rural hospitals and the State Office of Rural Health within TDA also has indicated it is moving to extend grant deadlines and identify aid resources for community hospitals and clinics.

The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act was enacted on March 18 to assist states with funding. Texas received $36.9 million under the law from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a press release from the Office of the Governor. Out of those funds, DSHS will distribute $19.5 million to 43 local health departments for testing and community intervention efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Protective equipment. On March 22, Texas announced the formation of a Supply Chain Strike Force to work with the federal government and businesses to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care facilities. This equipment, which can include N95 respirator masks, eye shields, gowns, and gloves, is needed to protect workers in close physical contact with patients infected with the coronavirus from being infected themselves. The strike force also is intended to ensure daily resources, including food, are available for medical personnel and first responders. The strike force created an online portal to streamline distribution of PPE and other supplies and to receive donations. The portal provides links to enable medical professionals, including medical retirees and students, to volunteer their expertise and time.

By Alison Hern

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