Zwiener looks at discrepancy in coronavirus hospital numbers

by Sahar Chmais

Near the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, some mayors in Hays County told their residents that one of the most defining factors for how the city is doing depends on the number of hospitalizations. Hays County records these numbers and posts them to its webpage; but there has been a mismatch in information that shows one hospital system counted more COVID-19 Hays County patients than the county has posted on its website.

The county was notified about this discrepancy by State Rep. Erin Zwiener. She brought forth the information she collected from one hospital system, the Ascension group, and sent a letter to Judge Ruben Becerra on July 31 and she said she did not hear back. In the letter, she states multiple concerns, notably about the underreporting of hospitalization numbers.

“I remain concerned about the apparent underreporting of hospitalizations of Hays County residents,” Zwiener wrote to Becerra. Later in the letter she said, “I am asking that the county offer clarification both to me and the community about the completeness (or lack thereof) of our hospitalization numbers, or, if appropriate, explain this disparity to me. I have a duty to share this information with the public, but I believe it would be more effective for our public health response if it came from the county.”

Within the same letter, Zwiener wrote that she had a meeting with the Ascension system on July 16 where they informed her they had a meeting with county officials to discuss and improve the reporting process.

On that day, the Ascension system had admitted 122 patients into Travis County Ascension hospitals with Hays County zip codes. But on the same day, the county reported a total of 78 hospitalized patients.

Hays County reports the number of patients hospitalized based on hospitals inside and outside of the county.

The most updated information Zwiener received from the Ascension system in July stated that Hays County has 136 COVID-19 patients hospitalized. The county’s website, on Aug. 7, which does not get updated over the weekend, showed that the county had a total of 117 hospitalizations.

The hospitalizations Hays County presented in August are still lagging from the information presented by Ascension in late July.

But these numbers are only based off of Ascension’s hospitalizations. Hays County residents go to multiple hospital systems, such as Baylor Scott and White and Christus Santa Rosa Hospital in San Marcos.

The Hays Free Press reached out to the county to find out why there is a difference in the numbers, the request was passed on to the judge’s office, but there is still no word as to why hospitalization numbers do not match the county’s records and the hospital’s records.

Hospitals are also unable to discuss why the county would have different numbers showing.

The disparity in numbers is not the only issue that Zwiener is facing with Hays County. As a representative, Zwiener would like to understand what is going on in the counties she represents. She has reached out to Hays County with multiple COVID-19 information requests but has difficulty getting anything back from them.

For example, on June 12, she stated that she wanted to find out about the county’s contact tracing program but never received a response.

“Both my staff and I struggle to get phone calls returned (from county officials),” Zwiener wrote, “and we are not included in the county’s briefings of elected officials. The lack of inclusion for my office and lack of exchange of information hampers my ability to do my job and places the residents of House District 45 at a meaningful disadvantage.”

Zwiener did not hear back about anything she wrote in her letter to Becerra but hopes that she will be more included in the county’s activities so she can properly represent her district.

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