TAFEC Press Release - Three Proposals for Full Utilization of 200 Texas Freestanding ERs During COVID-19 Pandemic

Texas ER Operators: “We Have 1,500 More Beds Ready for Patients”

Three Proposals for Full Utilization of 200 Texas Freestanding ERs During COVID-19 Pandemic

Austin, TX – March 25, 2020 – The Texas Association of Freestanding Emergency Centers (TAFEC) announced today their effort to ease the burden facing hospitals dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic by working with state and federal leaders on three proposals to allow freestanding emergency centers (FECs) across Texas to be fully utilized during this public health crisis. With a few regulatory changes, more than 200 FECs across the state could provide beds for more than 1,500 patients. 

The coronavirus is spreading at such a rapid pace that many hospitals could soon run out of space, and frontline healthcare workers may reach the limit of their capacity to help those in need. Hospital-based emergency departments may become overwhelmed and unable to care for patients suffering from the pandemic, as well as patients with other life-threatening conditions.

TAFEC’s three proposals to provide additional access to treatment and testing for Texans impacted by COVID-19 include:


Texas can serve as a leader in making every available resource accessible to patients, including freestanding emergency centers, many of which have respirators and isolation rooms to assist in fighting COVID-19.

Freestanding ERs’ recognition as Medicare and  Medicaid-approved  healthcare  facilities  would alleviate over-crowding in hospitals, provide rural and underserved  Texans  with  more  and  easier access to care and help leverage untapped resources in the state’s response to the pandemic. Currently, FECs are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement because they are owned, in whole or in part, by independent groups or individuals. This cuts off many older Texans dependent on Medicare   who are at greatest risk during this healthcare crisis from a multitude of medical resources. In order to hasten recognition by CMS, the Trump administration and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) must advocate to expand current CMS regulations. Through the current 1135 Waiver, Chapter 254 HHS freestanding emergency centers could be  certified  as  Medicare  and Medicaid facilities.

“Now is the time to look beyond old system-centric ways of providing healthcare and put patient-centered policies in place that allow Texans in both rural and urban areas to access the care they need. We applaud Governor Abbott’s swift proactivity during this public health crisis and urge his administration to advocate for  the  freestanding  ER  industry’s  recognition  by  the  federal  government’s  Centers  for  Medicare  & Medicaid (CMS) so we can care for more Texans who may be suffering from Covid-19 and any other medical emergencies.”

--Rhonda Sandel, CEO, Texas Emergency Care Center and founding member and immediate-past president of TAFEC.


Currently, FECs are not permitted to provide non-emergency care such as out-patient services, although they possess all of the resources to do so. Out-patient services they are equipped to provide could include Coronavirus testing, infection assessment, pharmacy, lab work, radiology, imaging and other vital services.

TAFEC is requesting that the relevant state agencies extend testing sites and outpatient services to include Chapter 254 HHS licensed freestanding emergency centers.


Recent rule changes went into effect that expand telemedicine during this pandemic; however, the changes were limited to providers contracted with health plans, a stipulation which greatly limits patients’ access. Through a state waiver and/or rule change, all emergency medicine physicians could offer telemedicine to Texans regardless of existing health plan contracts, thereby allowing more citizens to receive vital emergency health care advice.

Telemedicine limits physical contact between patients and physicians and can be a vital tool to combat the spread of infectious diseases. Thousands of FEC physicians, when not on duty at an emergency room, are available to see patients remotely and advise them regarding the most appropriate clinical care. This allows emergency trained physicians to triage patients remotely, avoiding unnecessary patient trips to emergency rooms, and allowing those facilities to prioritize the higher acuity cases.

“The freestanding emergency community stands with the rest of our Texas healthcare community as we all pull together to fight this battle. Freestanding emergency centers throughout the state are ready, willing and able to do their part during this crisis.”

--Lonnie Schwirtlich, MD, Physicians Premier ER and president of TAFEC.

Share this post:

Comments on "TAFEC Press Release - Three Proposals for Full Utilization of 200 Texas Freestanding ERs During COVID-19 Pandemic"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment