After Hidalgo County Judge Richard. F Cortez requested more help for local hospitals from the state, Cortez held a Monday press conference with officials from local hospitals to discuss the need the medical community needs in battling the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Numbers seem to escalate seemingly every day,” Cortez said. “I have friends and acquaintances who have received this virus and say they don’t even wish this on their worst enemy. We’re running short on staff and equipment.”
As of Wednesday evening, 274 people are in area hospitals from COVID-19 complications with 19 of those cases being treated in the intensive care unit.
“One of the goals to take necessary precautions to limit the spread of the disease was to not overwhelm our healthcare industry with this virus,” Cortez said. “Today we find ourselves very close to reaching capacity where our health care providers are having to take necessary steps to care for those who need to be taken for.”
At Monday’s press conference, Kane Dawson-CEO of Mission Regional Medical Center, stressed the need to ensure all hospitals in the county continue to have empty beds for new patients.
“Our issues with capacity are very complex. Our hospitals have beds, we’re ramping up with staffing, but there’s a lot of downstream shortfalls in terms of durable medical equipment and other things we didn’t anticipate,” Dawson said. “We need to get those patients discharged in order to create capacity.”
In response to the capacity issue, Cortez wrote a letter to state Gov. Greg Abbott to solicit help.
“Our hospitals are running short on staff and supplies,” Cortez said. “To my happy surprise, they responded quickly, we received positive confirmation that two of our hospital groups in Hidalgo County will be receiving support.”
Cortez was referring to a Sunday announcement that the state would be sending nurses from other parts of the state to bolster the staffing of at least one Hidalgo County hospital.
Mission Regional Medical Center announced Tuesday that nurses have arrived to their hospital.
“This is welcome relief at a time when the number of people needing hospital care continues to rise,” Judge Cortez said.
Aid to the county continued through Wednesday when the county announced the deployment of an Ambulance Strike Team that arrived that evening in Pharr to provide relief and support to current Emergency Medical Service Providers that have been overwhelmed due to the local hospitals’ response to COVID-19.
The AST is trained to respond to large-scale emergencies and could not be coming at a more critical time, Hidalgo County Emergency Management Coordinator Ricardo Saldaña said in a news release.
“The State has commissioned the Texas Emergency Medical Task Force that will support other EMS providers during disasters or when times are crucial,” said Saldaña. “We appreciate their quick response to our community.”
The AST is a group of five ambulances that provides an operational group of ambulances complete with a supervisory element for organization command and control.
“Having the strike team on hand will be a big help to county residents by not having them wait for such a long period of time since current ambulances have been tied up at the hospitals answering other calls regarding COVID-19,” Saldaña said.
Though the county is receiving help, Lance Ames, CEO of South Texas Health Systems, said the rapid increase of new COVID-19 cases could overwhelm the hospital system.
“The top need we have right now is staffing across all hospitals. The request the county and each hospital has put in for additional staffing will help us out a lot,” Ames said. “The reality we see in our hospitals is there’s a lot more cases coming in. We’d have to be creative with the resources we have, stretching our systems, staffing and other resources.”
At the Monday meeting, Cortez urged the public to continue to keep each other safe from the pandemic.
“We’re in this together, we will solve this problem by working together,” Cortez said. “We need to understand the needs we have.”
Dawson also reminded the public to continue to take safety measures this holiday weekend.
“As much as we enjoy family gatherings, we’re seeing whole families come in. That’s tragic and difficult,” Dawson said. “We want people celebrating the 4th of July this weekend to be careful. That’s my message, please take it to heart.”