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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Texas Longhorns linebacker Jake Ehlingers' death this spring was the result of an accidental drug overdose, according to a statement by the late student's family.
According to the statement, the 20-year-old University of Texas student and Westlake High grad overdosed on pills believed to be Xanax laced with Fentanyl, an often-deadly combo that has resulted in thousands of accidental fatalities nationwide.
Ehlinger was found dead off campus May 6 in a tragedy that shook the Austin and UT community, as well as Ehlinger's family, including his brother, former UT quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who now plays for the NFL's Indianapolis Colts.
An honorable mention All-State player and district defensive MVP while in high school, Ehlinger followed in his brother's footsteps and continued his football career as a walk-on at UT. He was also a sophomore in finance, a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and a member of the Texas Silver Spurs, a student organization that cares for beloved mascot Bevo the Longhorn.
Counterfeit Xanax pills have caused an increasing number of fatalities in the area with 1,000 deaths related to synthetic opioids in the state in 2020. Drug dealers have begun stuffing fentanyl, an opiod that the DEA said can be up to 60 times more deadly than heroin, into pills resembling the prescription anti-anxiety medication and selling them to unwitting customers.
"The spread of counterfeit pills is an ongoing and significant issue throughout our country, particularly in schools, colleges and universities," the the Ehlinger family said in a statement. "As our family continues to process Jake's death, we felt it was important to share these details with the hope that Jake will not have died in vain. We pray that sharing Jake's story will help shed light on this problem and prevent other families from also tragically losing a loved one."
To combat the surge of deaths, Austin police now have access to a supply of Narcan, a drug that can combat the effects of an opiod overdose. Though it's not mandatory, APD officers can now check out supplies of the drug when responding to calls. The department had almost completed training on the drug by June, according to a KXAN report.
"You can talk to a number of families that have had family members die because of opioid overdoses and if this was an option to help their loved one or save their loved one, I'm sure that every single one of them would tell you that it was incredibly important that we now have this incredible tool in our tool belt," Assistant Chief Scott Perry said in the report.
Ehlinger is remembered by his brother, Sam, his mother Jena, his sister Morgen and the University of Texas community. Ehlinger's father, Ross, died of an apparent heart attack while swimming in a triathlon in 2013.
"(Jake) was his dad's little buddy, and they shared an unbreakable bond," Jake's obituary read. "His father's spirit was alive and well in every part of Jake's life. Tragic life circumstances created a unique opportunity for Sam and Jake to uplift and empower each other. They were each other's biggest fans. Their mother, Jena, as well as their sister, Morgen, were the loves of Jake's life. Everyone will miss his giant hugs, but no one more than Jena and Morgen."
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Eight of the world's best Brazilian jiu-jitsu athletes flew into Austin in September to be in the new hub for the sport. But after over a decade of fighting together, they'll no longer be under the same name.
The legendary Danaher Death Squad, which started in 2007 and was led by black belt John Danaher, made a highly-publicized split in late July while in Puerto Rico, with Danaher, legend Gordon Ryan and teammate Gary Tonon announcing the aptly-titled "New Wave Jiu Jitsu" as their new studio to open soon in Austin.
Missing from the new roster were former teammates Craig Jones, Ethan Crelinstein, Nick Rodriguez and even Ryan's younger brother, Nicky Ryan. The new crew announced that day that they would also be forming a new studio with the tongue-in-cheek title "B Team Jiu Jitsu."
Jiu jitsu greats Craig Jones (left) and Gordon Ryan have opened rival studios in Austin.
Both teams chose to move to Austin, a hotbed for the sport that the B Team's Seth Belisle said is becoming a "mecca for jiu-jitsu." With plenty of renowned studios, jiu-jitsu enthusiasts like Joe Rogan coming into town and the presence of Flo Grappling, the sport's premier media outlet, Belisle said there's now "more jiu-jitsu here than anywhere in the world."
While Belisle, an Austin native, handles the business side for the crew, the team's coaching is headed by Jones, a leopard-print wearing Aussie who has been known to sport assless chaps and places importance on the lighter side of things (the studio advertises that they train "Mexican ground karate," a name they created for jiu-jitsu).
Rumors abound about the famed fighters' breakup, including money issues in the Ryan family or a well-rehearsed PR stunt, but Jones told Austonia that the split of the Death Squad simply comes down to personal differences between the fighters.
"It wasn't an amicable breakup at all," Jones said. "What Gordan represents is quite controversial... I would say there would be no line he wouldn't cross to promote a grappling match. So in that sense, we're sort of focused on a different, more positive sort of vibe."
B Team and New Wave alike are opening at a critical time for jiu-jitsu, as the sport slowly becomes a household name. Now, top fighters can make a living from their sport while still maintaining a much lower profile than MMA fighters or boxers.
That name recognition and B Team's positive attitude drew in droves of new trainees, with many opting to move to Austin solely to train at B Team.
"Jiu-jitsu is a relatively new sport," Belisle said. "If you love basketball, it's impossible for you to say, 'I'm going to go play with LeBron James and learn from him this weekend... in jiu-jitsu, that's possible. You have access to the stars of the sport because it hasn't really blown up yet. It's something special."
After an open house that saw over 150 athletes show up, the team realized they needed to become more exclusive. Now, the studio trains only the "Olympians" of the sport, something that sets them apart from other local studios. They also frequently bring in celebrities of the sport for training sessions, including famed female fighter Ffion Eira Davies.
"We're obviously a new gym, but we're probably some of the best guys in the world," Jones said.
Meanwhile, New Wave is training at the famed Renzo Gracie Studio, Danaher's former trainer, as they wait for a new studio.
Will the world's two best teams soon have showdowns in the Texas capital?
While it's unclear whether or not things will get personal (no brother vs. brother matchup is on the horizon), trainees under each studio went head-to-head for the first time Wednesday as New Wave's Gordon Ryan announced his first match out of semi-retirement. Ryan, often lauded as the best grappler in the world, forced UFC fighter Phillip Rowe to submit four times in the 15-minute friendly exhibition match at Austin's Palmer Events Center.
But Rowe, who was first a jiu-jitsu athlete before switching to UFC, said he didn't know about the beef and was just looking to train under his favorite athletes, Jones and Rodriguez.
He competed for a few reasons—including a break from UFC and a chance to give BJJ a bigger name—but he mostly came into town for the fun of it. Ryan and Rowe talked often prior to the meet, with Rowe gifting Ryan a Bumpboxx, or decorated boombox, in honor of Ryans' father. The respect was mutual—Ryan shouted out Rowe after the match for coming out with a broken hand and the death of some loved ones a week prior.
The match was the first indirect competition between the two gyms. Jones said they won't be training with the goal of fighting any of their former New Wave compadres.
"I don't know what's going to happen ultimately," Jones said. "Because obviously, we're not friendly as it is right now, but I mean. I wouldn't go so far as to train someone that was going to compete against them directly."
But with B Team fighters like Nick Rodriguez expressing their interest in fighting in the future and both gyms training for the WNO Championships in 2022, it's almost inevitable that the former teammates will find themselves on either side of the mat sooner or later.
"'I'd be lying if I said that every day since I started jiu-jitsu my goal is to beat Gordon. I'd be lying if I was saying that isn't true," Rodriguez told the Jason Chambers podcast. "My goal is to be the best grappler in the world and nothing less. That's an old teammate that I have to go through to knock him out and get to the top, then that's fine with me."
Atop one of Austin's signature rolling hilltops, 1501 Ridgecrest Drive is similar to one of the plush palaces that one might find in Calabasas. For $10.9 million, the home has four bedrooms, four-and-a-half bathrooms and caps at 10,498 square feet.
Park in the massive, fully air-conditioned garage before walking in, where you'll have eight full spaces to park your collection of cars. If you're not a collector, the garage makes an excellent studio space.
The wide-open living spaces will draw your eyes to the two-story ceilings, glass catwalk, integrated fireplace and wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the pool.
Though the house was built in 2011, it doesn't show its age. Sleek, clean lines lead seamlessly from the formal living area to an elite open-plan kitchen. Separated by a 25-foot waterfall island that can seat at least eight people, the kitchen is fitted with only the finest Miele and Subzero appliances. The custom cabinets are just as pricey as the rest of the place, finished with custom high-gloss Aston Martin (you read that right) paint.
Upstairs in the sprawling master's suite, there are enough amenities to never have to set foot outside again. Armani tile floors, space for living and a walk-in showcase closet lead into the resort-style bathroom, where you'll find dual vanities, a walk-in shower and a lounging bathtub.
The bedroom is a quick elevator trip away from the "party" room, complete with a bar, wine room and movie theater, only the best for entertaining. If your guests are staying over, rest assured they'll be comfortable with the kitchenette, washer and dryer and spa-like bath in their suite.
Though summer has passed, you can still enjoy the grand lap pool's unobstructed Hill Country views, many private lounging areas, grill a homemade snack at the outdoor kitchen or shoot some hoops at the newly-added court.
The listing is held by Compass' Gary Dolch.
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