Texas Doctor Talks 'Overwhelming' Impact on Hospitals as Coronavirus Cases Surge

"It is a level of decision-making that I don't think a lot of us are prepared for," Dr. Jeffrey Dellavolpe said

jeff della volpe
Dr. Jeffrey Dellavolpe.

As the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. continues to rise, a doctor in San Antonio, Texas, has been forced to make the difficult decision of choosing which of the patients currently fighting for their lives get to be placed in hospital beds.

Dr. Jeffrey DellaVolpe, a pulmonologist and the director of the ECMO program at San Antonio Methodist Hospital told CNN that this explosion of cases is not something he and other healthcare professionals were at all prepared for.

"Yesterday was probably the worst day I ever had," DellaVolpe said. "I got 10 calls. Young people who would otherwise be excellent candidates to be able to put on ECMO."

ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), is a therapy that adds oxygen to one's blood and pumps it through their body.

"They're so sick that if they don't get put on, if they don't get the support, they are going to die," DellaVolpe explained.

The problem is, DellaVolpe explained that he only had three beds available in the unit of the hospital that provides ECMO.

"And just making that decision of who would benefit. It is a level of decision-making that I don't think a lot of us are prepared for," DellaVolpe said.

A rep for DellaVolpe tells PEOPLE: "We still have bed capacity and are currently making even more in preparation for a continued surge. The decisions DellaVolpe is referring to are in regards to accepting patients from other hospitals in other areas."

Dr. Jennifer Gemmill, the hospital's medical director in the physician emergency department, said that the hospital is so full that "we are holding a lot of them in the emergency department."

"Some for hours, some for days," she told CNN.

San Antonio Methodist Hospital
San Antonio Methodist Hospital. Google Maps

DellaVolpe also revealed that the patients being admitted into the hospital with COVID-19 are "getting younger."

"The last few weeks have just been overwhelming is how I'd describe it," he told CNN. "There's been more and more patients than we really know what to do with and the patients are getting young and they're more sick."

"It's gone from 50s and 60s for the first wave to I've lost track of how many people in their 20s," DellaVolpe shared.

As for ECMO, Methodist Hospital is using this method to keep patients off ventilators. "I think the ventilator really causes a lot of harm. It causes harm in general but certainly causes harm when we're talking about patients with COVID," DellaVolpe said.

"You're artificially pushing more air into your lungs and causing more damage that way," he added.

When it comes to the increase in coronavirus cases, medical professionals can't say what specifically led to the spike.

"I think people in March and April were extremely frustrated with being inside and as soon as those restrictions lifted they wanted to get out. Some protected themselves, some didn't and now we're seeing the result of that," Gemmill told CNN.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 2,679,230 cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and a total of 128,024 deaths as of Thursday.

The first cases of a mysterious respiratory illness — what is now known as COVID-2019, a form of coronavirus — began in Wuhan, China in late December. Since then, the virus has spread worldwide, leading the World Health Organization to declare a public health emergency, the first since the zika epidemic in 2016.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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