COVID-19 patients in south Texas flown out of area due to hospital staff shortage


Residents line-up in their vehicles to be tested amid the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Houston, Texas, U.S., July 9, 2020. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas (KVEO/News Nation) — A hospital in South Texas is flying coronavirus patients out of the Rio Grande Valley because there’s not enough staff to provide care.

In the past week, multiple patients at Starr County Memorial Hospital were flown to San Antonio to receive critical care.

“The number of fatalities has significantly increased throughout (Starr County),” said Dr. Jose Vasquez with the Starr County Health Authority.

In San Antonio, the Texas Department of State Health Services’ case dashboard showed hospitals in that area have 96 available ICU beds and 720 available hospital beds, as of Thursday. In the Valley region, they have 25 open ICU beds and 424 hospital bed calls. 

“It was impossible to transfer them within the Valley and we spend a significant amount of the day trying to get to a higher level of care,” Vasquez said.

After requesting help from the state, the hospital received 30 additional healthcare workers, including nurses, lab technicians and respiratory therapists.

The county is nearing 1,000 positive COVID-19 cases, a number Vasquez expects to grow within the next few days.

“I was just texting with (Texas Department of State Health Services) to know what happened, why are they delaying in the report of positive cases. I haven’t received a report within the last four-five days,” he said.

Hidalgo County, directly east of Starr County, has more than 5,400 confirmed cases.

Vasquez fears that although the hospital is balanced with the new workers, they will be back to square one as the county anticipates reports from the previous week, as well as the Fourth of July weekend.

In Austin, county health director Dr. Mark Escott said he was also waiting for about 2,000 test results Wednesday. Escott said the turnaround time for tests can be anywhere from seven to 10 days if they are sent to a national lab.

In an effort to mitigate the spread, Austin City Council will have a special meeting Thursday to discuss whether to move to Stage 5 of the city’s public health guidelines, which would only allow for essential business to open and prohibit outdoor gatherings.

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