EDINBURG — The five major hospital systems in Hidalgo County are asking county commissioners for financial support in order to respond to the surge in COVID-19 patients.

The Monitor obtained a copy of the letter that five medical institutions — Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, South Texas Health System, Mission Regional Medical Center, Rio Grande Regional Hospital and Knapp Medical Center — sent to Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez and the four county commissioners on Thursday.

“From the outset of the pandemic, our health systems have acted early and undertaken a wide variety of measures to prepare for and respond to the public health emergency, including but not limited to, retrofitting facilities, revamping standard operating procedures, innovating new ways to deliver safe and efficient healthcare, and expending significant resources in adding capacity to be able to provide care for COVID-19 patients,” the letter stated.

“However, the recent surge in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks, and the resultant 1,000%+ increase in hospitalizations (based on data from the county) is putting strain on our health systems — both on a human and a financial level,” the letter continued.

The hospital representatives then asked commissioners to partner with them and provide financial support from “dedicated COVID-19 funding sources” to use “exclusively” to respond to COVID-19.

And though they didn’t provide a specific figure, they did indicate the hospitals have reached an agreement on a possible funding formula that takes into consideration several factors, including the number of cases each institution handles and the number of days a patient spends hospitalized between March 1 and June 30.

The county judge said he had yet to receive the letter Thursday evening, but he has been in conversations with hospital representatives about their concerns. As a result, he’s turned to local municipal mayors for their input.

“Because when we sat down and negotiated the amount of money that we received from the CARES Act, I told them, ‘I’m responsible (as county judge) for these funds, and these funds were given to us to fight this COVID-19 virus and to use it to protect the public. So right now, if I give it to you, then I have nothing in reserve to use for unexpected, unanticipated events,” Cortez said he told mayors. “So I said, ‘What I’d like to do is to reserve 10% of the funds and put it aside until Sept. 1, and if nothing has come up that is considered an emergency, then it goes pro rata on a basis of population.’”

“To me, we have reached a point that we may be in that emergency,” Cortez continued. “So I’ve asked them to consider the possibility for us to earmark or make available some of those funds for the shortfalls that may exist in those situations.”

That emergency fund is worth about $15 million.

“Right now there’s a tremendous shortage on oxygen,” Cortez said.

Many patients also need dialysis and there is a need for a facility where patients that need acute care or are convalescing can be moved to, he added.

Hospitals are also struggling to create capacity, retrofit facilities, revamp standard operating procedures, and find enough medical personnel to care for patients.

“The ability to staff COVID-19 patient units with a sufficient number of nurses, caregivers and physicians is a major concern and continuing expense — including overtime, supplemental pay programs, and the costs to recruit, contract and lodge caregivers from outside the region,” the letter stated.

“So all of those things right now, I’m trying to get a handle on what they are, get a handle on what the state can help us with,” Cortez said. “And for those things that the state can’t’ help us with, we’re going to have to find a way to finance it.

“We don’t want a single person to die or a single person not to receive care because of a lack of funds.”