Starr Co. hospital seeks cross-country help

25 more people die in Valley due to COVID-19

Due to lack of capacity at hospitals because of a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, the Starr County hospital has resorted to looking far across the country for help with their patients.

Dr. Jose Vazquez, the Starr County health authority, said Starr County Memorial Hospital has been unable to transfer out patients for the last two days and are now trying to transfer patients as far as New York.

“This is just absolutely unbelievable,” Vazquez said Friday.

Starr County Memorial Hospital, of which Vazquez is also the board chairman, does not have intensive care unit services. Therefore, the three patients currently intubated and the three patients expected to be intubated within the next few hours all need to be transferred elsewhere.

“As soon as we get a patient who’s sick who needs to be intubated, that becomes, immediately, a patient that we need to make arrangements to transfer,” Vazquez said. “We are now trying to … making phone calls everywhere in the country — like I said, as far as New York — to try to transfer patients.”

Last week, Vazquez said two patients had to be transferred to San Antonio and Dallas via helicopter after attempts to transfer patients to other Rio Grande Valley hospitals were unsuccessful.

“The situation is getting very, very complicated,” he said.

Vazquez also said that, at that time, the hospital had 29 COVID-19 beds with 22 currently in use.

He also confirmed that four inmates of the Starr County jail had tested positive for the disease.

Earlier this week, Maj. Carlos Delgado, a spokesman for the Starr County Sheriff’s Office had confirmed the first two cases there.

Not all inmates have been tested, though, as the facility is only testing those who are sick, according to Vazquez.

At Rio Grande City Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Vazquez was also able to confirm that 45 staff members had recovered from COVID-19, 38 residents were confirmed positive, and five test results were still pending.

This comes after the company that runs the nursing home, Regency Integrated Health Services, had all staff and employees tested for a third time to contest a previous round of testing that turned up 74 positive cases.

On Friday, Starr County reported 27 new cases of COVID-19, raising its total to 1,032 and the number of active cases to 738.

In addition to the confirmed positive cases, the county is reporting five COVID-19 related deaths, according to information provided by Vazquez.

However, there are 26 more deaths that are pending confirmation.

Vazquez previously explained that COVID-19 deaths in Starr County were significantly under-reported largely due to the amount of time it takes to certify as having been related to the disease.

That usually happens after the Department of State Health Services receives a death certificate verifying the death as a COVID-19 related one.

In Hidalgo County, officials there reported that 19 more residents died due to the disease and an additional 393 positive cases were confirmed.

Among those who died were residents of Mission, San Juan, McAllen, Edinburg, Pharr and Alamo. Several were in their 70s, two were in their 30s and one in their 40s.

Of Hidalgo County’s total number of 7,727 positive cases, 4,696 are active.

Currently, there are 798 COVID hospitalizations in there and 198 of those patients are in an intensive care unit, according to a news release issued by Hidalgo County officials.

Cameron County health officials reported six COVID-19 related deaths on Friday, bringing their death toll to 77.

The six individuals include five men — a 47-year old from La Feria, a 60-year old from Primera, a 71-year old from Rio Hondo, a 73-year old from Brownsville, and a 75-year old from Harlingen — and a 79-year old woman from Harlingen.

The county also confirmed 250 new cases. So far, they’ve reported a total of 3,496 cases of the disease, 1,092 of which are currently active.

The limitations of Starr County’s hospital amid the continued rise in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths were cited in a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott signed by Starr County Judge Eloy Vera and the local mayors, requesting that he return emergency management authority to local jurisdictions.

“We understand the importance of opening Texas businesses and the impact that this has on the economy,” they wrote, “however during (these) unprecedented times, we need to safeguard our residents and encourage safety procedures and guidelines to ensure the well-being of everyone.” 

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause much distress in our communities, we humbly ask for the ability to exercise local control of community ordinances as needed to keep our residents safe,” the letter stated. “We appeal to you Governor Abbott to please let us help you in protecting the lives of our residents.”

bereniceg@themonitor.com