Austin freestanding ERs will begin receiving the COVID vaccine after hospital ERs—a rule workers say is unfair
COVID-19 vaccines have already been delivered to healthcare workers throughout the state of Texas. However, none of those allocations went to freestanding emergency rooms physicians and nurses.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced yesterday that more than 220,000 doses were doled out to medical personnel this week. In accordance with the state's two tier plan, freestanding emergency room staffers are in the program's second tier and won't begin to receive the vaccines until next week or even until the end of the month, a delay some medical personnel say is dangerous.
The allocation plan laid out Dec. 4 by Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt, listed "protecting health care workers who fill a critical role in caring for and preserving the lives of COVID-19 patients…" as the top basis for distributing the initial limited supply.
Although the process included hospital staff working directly with patients who are positive or at high risk for the disease to be included in the top tier of allocation—such as hospital emergency room personnel—the care staff of freestanding emergency medical care facilities was linked with urgent care clinic employees under Tier 2.
Freestanding ERs are emergency rooms that aren't physically attached to a hospital, said Dr. Daniel Roe, the medical director for Vik Complete Care, a company with 16 freestanding emergency rooms throughout Texas, including two in the Austin area. There are 200 freestanding ERs in the state, he said.
DSHS Director of Media Relations Chris Van Deusen said the vaccine distribution tiers are not rigid requirements but "just rough groupings" to help organize the first allocation phase. He said freestanding ERs "will begin getting vaccine(s) next week."
"There's a common misperception among both civilians and medical people that freestanding ERs see a lower acuity or lower volume of patients," said Roe, a 26-year veteran of the medical field who is board certified in emergency medicine. "And, that's just not true."
The staff of those facilities sees a range of patients, from motor vehicle accidents to heart attacks and stroke, he said. And, they are seeing a lot of the coronavirus.
Complete Care has performed 25,000 COVID-19 tests in the past few months, and is on track to perform 30,000 such tests by the end of the year, Roe said. Within the company, he said the rate of positive results for those tests is 19%, or about 4,500 positive tests, a statistic that comports with or is greater than the positivity and testing rates for hospital emergency rooms, he said.
Roe said the tier system adopted by the state for vaccine distribution priority is erroneously based on facility types instead of provider roles.
"As emergency physicians and as emergency nurses and emergency techs, we should have access to the vaccine at the same time as employees that provide care at hospital-based ERs," he said. "We've really put ourselves out there, on the front line, and we feel like we should have access to the vaccine."
Texas Emergency Care Center CEO Rhonda Sandel agrees. The registered nurse not only heads the freestanding emergency room company but is also a founding member and immediate past president of the Texas Association of Freestanding Emergency Centers, an organization that advocates for fair regulation within the field, along with serving as the current president of the group's national organization.
Along with several TAFEC affiliates, Sandel penned her name to a Dec. 16 correspondence sent to the DSHS panel that drafted the tier guidelines, urging its members to include all emergency medical personnel in Tier 1.
"I think the State absolutely got it wrong and they did a disservice to many, many healthcare providers across the state," Sandel said of excluding freestanding ERs from Tier 1. "Any emergency room personnel, whether it's in a hospital-based emergency room or a licensed, freestanding emergency room have the same exact exposure to COVID patients."
She echoed Roe's sentiments that freestanding ERs across Texas are seeing thousands of COVID-19 patients daily, with many transferred to a hospital's intensive care, or COVID-unit, without the patient ever entering the hospital's emergency room. Freestanding ER personnel are intubating many COVID patients, a procedure that helps a patient breathe but presents a high risk for passing the infection on to assisting healthcare workers, Sandel said.
"Certainly, we are not at any less risk than those physicians or those nurses working in hospital-based emergency rooms," she said.
St. David's Healthcare staff unpack the first few shipments of its initial supply of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday.(St. David's Healthcare)
Additionally, a freestanding ER owned by a hospital group falls under the hospital's Tier 1 designation and is among the first group to be vaccinated, Sandel said. But a freestanding ER owned by an independent source, such as Vik Complete Care, is classified as a Tier 2 facility, whose staff will be vaccinated later, she said.
St. David's HealthCare maintains freestanding emergency centers in the Austin area, including Bastrop, Bee Cave, Cedar Park, Leander and Pflugerville. According to a St. David's spokesperson, each emergency center serves as an extension of a St. David's HealthCare hospital, hospitals that are classified as Tier 1 facilities for vaccine purposes.
"Employees of our emergency centers who meet the Tier 1 guidelines will be immunized during the first wave of COVID-19 vaccinations," the spokesperson said.
St. David's Healthcare staff unpack the first few shipments of its initial supply of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday.(St. David's Healthcare)
On Thursday, St. David's HealthCare received the first few shipments of its initial supply of the COVID-19 vaccine and personnel were slated to administer the vaccine to its employees and medical staff on Friday.
Carol Campbell, spokesperson at local freestanding ER group Austin Emergency Center, said she's hopeful there will be enough doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to administer to her personnel in the first round of distributions.
"The health and safety of our frontline workers who go above and beyond every day remains a top priority for our company," she said in an email to Austonia.
The danger of delaying COVID-19 vaccines to freestanding emergency room workers is that those employees could contract the disease, compromising their ability to continue to treat high numbers of patients and shunting more patients to hospital emergency rooms, Roe said.
"If there's an ethical priority and a pragmatic priority to protect frontline healthcare workers, we are in that group," he said.
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After two years of no in-person events, Austin festival South by Southwest has agreed to give 50% of ownership to P-MRC, a Los Angeles company that controls publishing operations for Rolling Stone and Billboard.
The media venture was founded in 2020 and is part-owned by Jay Penske, racer Roger Penske's son and head of Penske Racing and Penske Media.
The move comes after the COVID-19 pandemic left the festival with two years worth of hemorrhaging funds. SXSW organizers were left scrambling for solutions in March 2020 when the city of Austin canceled the festival at the onset of the pandemic. One-third of the festival's 175 year-round employees were laid off, and the festival ran a shortened virtual event in 2021.
SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson said in a statement that the company is grateful to get aid when they need it most and that they are now looking to the future.
"It has been an incredibly tough period for small businesses, SXSW included," Swenson said. "When Jay Penske approached us with an interest in becoming a partner, it was a true lifeline for us. Both of our companies share a passion for producing high-quality content that helps shape modern culture, so this feels like a natural alliance."
Both of Austin's big-name festivals are now in the hands of out-of-town buyers. In 2014, homegrown festival Austin City Limits was bought in part by LiveNation, who took 51% ownership in Austin live promoter C3 Presents.
The fest has captured the essence of Austin arts and culture for 34 years, and it doesn't plan on stopping now. With P-MRC by its side, SXSW said it plans on keeping its unique identity but expanding operations as it prepares for an in-person celebration next spring.
"Since 1987, SXSW has been the world's premier festival centered at the convergence of tech, media, film, and music," Penske said. "Today SXSW continues to be one of the most recognized brands for empowering creative talent and bringing together the brightest creators of our time. As part of this significant investment, we plan to build upon SXSW's incredible foundation while extending the platform further digitally and assisting Roland and his incredible team to bring their vision to even greater heights."
With their future restored, SXSW's newest slogan rings truer than ever: "See you next year at SXSW!"
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Update: Former Travis County deputy suspected of killing 3 in northwest Austin now in police custody
Stephen Broderick is now in police custody for a suspected domestic violence incident that killed three in northwest Austin on Sunday.
After initially being called an active shooting incident, joint local law enforcement and more than 75 FBI agents proceeded with an almost day-long manhunt with three helicopters and on-ground teams for former Travis County deputy Broderick. Police captured him after a 911 caller reported a suspicious man walking along U.S. 290, where he was taken into custody.
Police believe the victims, who have been identified as two Hispanic women and one Black man, knew their assailant. A child was involved but is now safely in police custody. Two of the victims have been identified as former and current Elgin ISD students: Alyssa Broderick and Willie Simmons III.
The school district released a statement offering its condolences to the families. Alyssa was enrolled until October 2020 and played on the basketball team. Simmons was a senior at Elgin High School where he was captain of the football team and had been recruited to play football at the University of North Texas.
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez released the following statement on the incident: "I'm truly heartbroken that a former Travis County Sheriff's Office Deputy is the suspect in such a horrific incident. TCSO is standing by to provide any, and all assistance we can to the families of the victims in their time of need. I'm proud of the integrity and professionalism shown by the men and women of TCSO, APD and other law enforcement agencies, who worked tirelessly throughout the night to locate Stephen Broderick. I'm especially grateful to the vigilant citizen who called 911 after seeing Broderick, and to the Manor PD officers and TCSO deputies who took him into custody this morning."
APD @Chief_Chacon provides updated media briefing in relation to Great Hills Trail incident. - PIO8 https://t.co/47siNWhARI
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) April 18, 2021
During a press briefing at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, Interim Police Chief Joe Chacon said law enforcement was on the scene for several hours investigating the incident with 41-year-old Broderick.
"We're very sorry that obviously this has happened and we continue to try and locate this individual, we are transitioning from a search in this area to a fugitive search and those efforts will continue until this person is located," Chacon said. "I don't want anyone to think that we're packing up and going home. We're going to continue to look for this individual because he continues to pose a threat to this community."
#texasshooting #masshooting Arboretum shooting Austin. pic.twitter.com/SkIsgDoYHt
— Jamie Hammonds (@jamie_hammonds5) April 18, 2021
This story has been updated at 8 a.m. Monday to include the latest information.
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Formula 1 is returning to Florida for the first time since 1959, announcing that the brand-new Miami Grand Prix will join the calendar in 2022 and Austin will no longer be the only F1 race in the U.S.
Held at the Hard Rock Stadium complex in Miami Gardens, this will be the first race in the Sunshine State in 62 years. With a new track setup, F1 will loop the stadium, home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
Excited for @F1 @f1miami @HardRockStadium - a Global Entertainment Destination. This event will bring opportunities for so many and will be world-class. Thank you to @gregmaffei #chasecarey #stefanodomenicali @MayorRHarris @Ogilbert @CommishDiaz @MayorDaniella pic.twitter.com/n6dDDD1cPX
— Tom Garfinkel (@TomGarfinkel) April 18, 2021
The new 3.36 mile circuit has 19 corners, three straights and potential for three DRS zones, with expected top speeds of 198 mph.
Now with two races in the U.S., F1 President Stefano Domenicali said they will avoid having back-to-back events by keeping the Miami Grand Prix separate from the U.S. Grand Prix, which is held at Austin's Circuit of the Americas.
The date of the race has yet to be confirmed, though Domenicali said he expects the first race in a 10-year deal to take place in the second quarter of 2022. Austin's race will take place on Oct. 24 this year.
"The USA is a key growth market for us, and we are greatly encouraged by our growing reach in the U.S. which will be further supported by this exciting second race," Domenicali said.
Miami will mark the 11th race location in the U.S. since the Championship began in 1950: Circuit of The Americas in Austin; Dallas, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Sebring, Florida; Riverside, California; Watkins Glen, New York; Long Beach, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Detroit, Michigan and Phoenix, Arizona. COTA was first opened in 2012.
Domenicali said F1 will be working with the FIA and the Hard Rock Stadium to leave a lasting impact on the community: discounted tickets for residents, a program to support local businesses and a STEM education program through F1 in schools.
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