AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Statewide cases of influenza (flu), COVID-19 and RSV are not only affecting families but hospitals too as they deal with the ongoing staffing crisis. 

Kirstine Openshaw’s four-year-old son has a congenital heart defect and her nine-month-old son is a preemie with laryngomalacia. Both got sick. 

“It was pretty miserable, it was pretty bad,” said Openshaw. “We had quite a few sleepless nights where he was just having a real hard time breathing, keeping them inclined, doing a lot of breathing treatments.” 

Many hospitals across the state have been experiencing a surge of cases, leaving them without free beds. Hospitals are encouraging families to call their pediatricians before going to the ER, but that wasn’t the case for Openshaw.

Her pediatrician’s office told her no appointments were possible and to bring her sons straight to the ER.

“We didn’t really feel like we had a lot of options as far as where to take them,” she said. “We can’t take him to the emergency room. They’re extremely sick, we go there and sit in the waiting room for a couple of hours — Lord knows what they’re going to catch and come home…we couldn’t risk that.”

She ended up driving them an hour to a neighboring rural town to get seen by a physician there.

“If we hadn’t gotten appointment…I have no doubt that his situation would have been bad,” Openshaw said.

Dr. Gary Floyd — a pediatrician and president of the Texas Medical Association — said unfortunately, Openshaw’s experience is not uncommon these days.

“Emergency rooms have been inundated,” he said. “Children’s hospitals, as well as adult[s], they’ve seen double their usual daily number. You’re never staffed to gear up that much. So they call in for extra help, but it increases the waiting times.”

New data out Wednesday from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows 13 out of the state’s 22 regional pediatric hospitals have zero ICU beds available — including Austin, San Antonio and Waco.

The surge in cases is not offering any relief for the health care industry as they deal with an ongoing staffing crisis. 

“We definitely have a shortage of all kinds of health care providers right now…. It’s been exacerbated by COVID,” Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said. 

Howard, a nurse herself, said she and other legislators are well aware of the ongoing staffing shortage. She says determining the causes is an essential component of solving the problem. 

“There are so many factors here that are working toward why we have a shortage,” Howard said. “We’ve got to do more to invest in the workforce pipeline with education, reimbursement, tuition assistance, getting the faculty in place — all those things are going to be significantly important to get the workforce that we need.”

In anticipation of the upcoming legislative session, Howard has refiled H.B. 112, which aims to prevent workplace violence at health care facilities — a factor that may be contributing to healthcare professionals exiting the industry altogether.

“Unfortunately, [workplace violence] has been considered by many over the years to just be a part of the job. And it’s not been reported. We’re trying to change that culture and have been working on that for years now to where it’s encouraged that this behavior be reported that hospitals do all they can to prevent it in the first place, but then provide appropriate security and interventions, and absolutely provide treatment if indeed, some trauma is experienced,” Howard said. 

Additionally, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, already introduced S.B. 244 to give support to nursing-related postsecondary education. It would include loan repayment assistance to nursing staff.