When the staff at the Helotes Prestige Emergency Room arrived to work on Feb. 16th, they couldn’t have predicted the next 30 hours would be the most harrowing of their work lives. As snow and ice began to fall, road conditions worsened, and medical personnel were unable to safely drive to the facility, extending shifts for many doctors and nurses.
Then, at 6 p.m., everything went dark. Without power, it became difficult to perform routine procedures that could make the difference for patients’ well-being.
The doctor on site knew he needed to quickly engage the facility’s emergency plan and bring on another generator to stay in operation. He did so immediately and then, to further ensure stability — after confirming another doctor was onsite to cover him — he began a treacherous trek home to get his own personal generator, risking his life for the well-being of his patients. The extra power was enough to run emergency equipment and allow the staff at the ER to treat their patients, run the facility’s lab and operate the X-ray machine for the next day and a half until power was restored.
Prestige Emergency Room is one of over 200 freestanding emergency centers (FEC) across the state, providing Texans with critical high-quality medical care. Its story of devoted service throughout the natural disaster that hit Texans in February was echoed at FECs throughout the state. Many FEC doctors and nurses worked around the clock, slept at their facilities and didn’t return home for days as they selflessly served patients.
By law, FECs are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and equipped with onsite pharmacies, emergency-trained physicians and registered nurses. Yet, despite being equipped, staffed and licensed to provide immunizations, imaging, radiology, laboratory, pharmacy and other services, Texas law currently prohibits these essential healthcare providers from treating anything that is not considered life-threatening, despite the increasing lack of available medical care in many parts of the state.
State Rep. James White, R-Hillister, is offering a solution that would give more Texans access to the high-quality non-emergency care FECs can provide, via House Bill 472. This legislation would update Chapter 254 of the Texas Health and Safety Code to allow FECs to provide non-emergency medical care, for things like minor scrapes, burns, bruises and common illnesses. This is an essential fix to the law that will allow FECs to provide preventative healthcare in areas that don’t have doctors and to assist the state in administering COVID-19 vaccines.
FECs are more than capable of providing emergency and non-emergency services alike. Because of their locations, hours, infrastructure and capabilities, FECs are particularly well equipped to provide high-quality services to their communities. In an era of record hospital closures throughout the state, combined with a pandemic that has overburdened our healthcare system, Texans need and deserve more and better access to medical care.
FECs like Prestige Emergency Room can be the last line of defense for many Texans. As lawmakers analyze February's storm and seek to expand access to high-quality care during the pandemic, they must remember the quick action and inspiring work of the Prestige ER team and countless other FEC personnel like them and broaden the ability of emergency centers to do more for the communities they serve.