Several Reddit users identifying themselves as Austin-area health care workers took to the popular social media platform Thursday and Friday to post observations about dire situations at some facilities treating COVID-19 patients.
They described full ICUs, multiple ventilator patients sharing rooms, deceased patients waiting for space at the hospital morgue, running home at night to study old textbooks to prepare for work every day, conserving PPE, and vital medicines that could go on backorder.
All of the users were anonymous, and their identities could not be immediately verified. But they spoke in specific terms about the facilities they are working in—and the situations they are seeing at work on the front lines of a pandemic.
Their stories appeared on a post from late Thursday that drew more than 260 comments, many from people identifying themselves as other health care workers, before it was deleted Friday morning. The comments are still there. The post was first made in response to user RationalAnarchy's daily COVID-19 updates, the user wrote.
"For the first time in my career I was scared," wrote the original commenter, who said they are a registered nurse at a local hospital. "Not to be alarmist, just to tell you how serious it is. I'm a pretty chill/laid back person and this translates to my nursing care. I've been in plenty of codes and in many emergency situations, but this is different. I've never seen SO many people so so severely sick and there not being much we can do for them."
Hospital space has become an issue in Austin, especially in ICUs. Officials are planning to open a field hospital at the Austin Convention Center on July 21, but it will serve low-acuity patients—those who don't need to be in the ICU.
The three main Austin hospital systems—Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's—said on Thursday that, collectively, ICU occupancy was at 89%, but it varies by hospital.
"COVID numbers at our hospital, much like the rest of Central Texas, are higher than what we've seen previously in this year. This certainly is a COVID surge," said Dr. DeVry Anderson, chief medical officer at St. David's South Austin Medical Center." And it's tight. We're managing ICU space day-to-day to make sure we have the space that's needed. When we do not, we're making sure that we transfer within our hospital system or even to other hospital systems when it's appropriate or needed to make sure that the patients get the level of care that is needed."
All three hospital systems are private organizations that do not release occupancy rates on any schedule. Officials have, in the recent past, expressed frustration with the lack of information.
Health care staff members at hospitals are generally not allowed to speak publicly about the facilities, but some use social media to communicate concerns anonymously.
Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and other discussion-based platforms are a popular option for getting details and insights from people on the front lines of the pandemic who cannot speak on the record to the press out of fear of losing their jobs.
Additional reporting by Chase Karacostas.
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