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Patients forced to wait thousands of minutes in rural Texas ER: "We've never seen this. Ever."

COVID-19 pushing rural hospital to the brink
"We've never seen this”: Texas doctor struggles to save patients as COVID-19 overwhelms hospitals 05:17

More than 5.3 million travelers were screened by TSA over Labor Day weekend. The alarming number has experts worried that this could lead to a new spike in COVID cases and deaths, just as hospital staff across the country are struggling to keep up.

Dr. Hasan Kakli, who works at El Campo Memorial Hospital Emergency Department in Texas, is in a race against time to give patients specialized care with a lack of resources due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

His patient, 50-year-old Araceli, has been unresponsive since being admitted to El Campo Memorial Hospital this weekend. She needs an ICU bed and an evaluation from a cancer specialist — El Campo has neither. 

Despite being just 76 miles from Houston — home to the world's largest medical complex and more than 85 different hospitals — Kakli can't find her a transfer after hospitals find themselves overwhelmed with COVID patients.

"I tried to get her into the best cancer hospital in the world which is also in Houston and they couldn't take her," Kakil told CBS News' David Begnaud. He said the wait times at hospitals' emergency rooms are unprecedented.

"You would never see four digits on minutes since checked in. We're 4 digits, thousands of minutes, we've never seen this, ever, ever," Kakli said.

But Kakli knows what other hospitals are facing — his beds at El Campo are almost entirely filled with COVID patients too. Out of 20 patients at the hospital's emergency room, Kakli says that only one does not have COVID. He said it has been like that "for the past three weeks."

For days, Kakli and his team called almost every hospital in the downtown Houston searching for a location to take in Araceli.

"So at this point, it's kind of like we need help. If she didn't have the malignancy and we had an open ICU bed, we would take care of her here," he said.

Finally, Kakli got a yes from a Houston area cancer hospital that agreed to take in Araceli. He said despite the good news, he doesn't feel good that it took this long to get Araceli help.

"It shouldn't take five days and four phone calls to make this happen," he said/ "It's sad that we're all relieved and happy that we got a patient out after four days; that's where the bar is right now, like we got them out eventually, and kudos to the entire staff here, the other ER docs who have been keeping the patients alive for as long as we have if we get through this, the team that we have here, our bond is going to be that much stronger if we get through this."

The same day that a hospital was found for Araceli, five new COVID patients were admitted to El Campo — none of them were vaccinated. Kakli said that he's had to accept that he is working through the "worst possible scenario."

"It's not going to get any better, but we're going to keep going. And that's it," Kakli told Begnaud before returning to work.

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