State laws reportedly tie hands of local standalone ERs

Posted at 8:15 PM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 23:33:46-04

Local doctors say they have COVID-19 testing kits available, but they aren’t able to use them during a global health crisis. Now, they’re pushing for legislation to be revised at the state level.

According to Dr. Lonnie Schwirtlich, a physician at Physician’s PremiER, they aren’t able to use those testing kits because, by state law, freestanding emergency rooms can only use their equipment for patients who have an emergency.

As it stands now, testing for COVID-19 isn’t considered an emergency, but Physican’s PremiER has all the resource available to do drive-though testing for the virus.

“We have the swabs and we have the blood tests,” said Schwirtlich. “We also have the serum test which can tell you whether you have COVID-19 in 15 minutes, and that's available at all of our facilities.”

“It would be a tremendous help if Gov. Greg Abbott could step in and ask the Texas Department of Health to let us do what all the emergency rooms and hospitals are able to do, which is to use our facilities at its maximum capacity,” Schwirtlich said. “So we can do a much better job of getting those patients tested and identified so they don't mix with the regular population and spread that disease.”

Schwirtlich also said if state legislation were revised, they’d be able to help alleviate some of the burden from hospitals, which could be seeing an increase in patients during the COVID-10 pandemic.

Plus, he said, if you’re sick and have symptoms, you shouldn’t be waiting for long period of time in a busy emergency room.

“There is also more of a chance of you catching other diseases that are hanging around those crowded centers,” Schwirtlich said.

Current federal law also prohibits freestanding emergency rooms from accepting Medicare, which is primarily used by the elderly. So, when they become ill, Medicare patients have to go to an emergency room. That can also be problematic because the elderly are a high-risk population and should avoid crowded hospitals. Schwirtlich said he is also trying to get federal legislation revised to change that.

“The place that these elderly people need to be spending the least amount of time at is a busy, congested hospital emergency room, where there are multiple other people with multiple other diseases,” Schwirtlich said.