Teaming up to Help: City, county to buy hospital oxygen units

Portable oxygen concentrator, which can be used by COVID-19 patients. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

HARLINGEN — The community is banding together to help hospitals care for a surge of COVID-19 patients filling beds to capacity.

Harlingen leaders are teaming up with Cameron County’s Emergency Management officials to purchase about 200 oxygen concentrators to help hospitals send recovered COVID-19 patients home with the units to free beds for other patients.

While Harlingen is buying 50 units, the county is purchasing about 150, each priced at $1,095.

The city and county are using money from the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act to fund the purchase from Melville, N.Y.-based Henry Schein Inc.

“They are badly needed,” Archie Drake, Valley Baptist Medical Center’s chief operating officer, said Friday. “I’m humbled by the amount of support our partners in the community are giving us to help patients. This is truly a serious pandemic and it takes all hands to take care of patients.” COVID-19 infects the lungs, causing respiratory problems. At the county’s four hospitals, the oxygen concentrators are expected to free as many as 25 beds a day, Drake said.

“All the Cameron County hospitals are working together,” he said. “We have to.”

On Friday morning, COVID-19 patients filled more than 50 percent of beds, pushing the hospital to 104 percent capacity, Drake said. “We have patients in non-traditional locations,” he said, referring to the hospital’s move to make room for the surge of COVID-19 patients. Some patients, he said, remain hospitalized to receive oxygen.

“There are people who have no other medical need but they have to have oxygen,” Drake said.

Assessing hospital needs

In Harlingen, Mayor Chris Boswell said the city is working with the county to help the hospitals save more lives. “The city of Harlingen is prepared to support the hospitals in any way we can,” he said. “They have to tell us how we can support them.”

For about a week, officials have been planning the purchase, Josh Ramirez, the city’s public health director, said.

“We saw the spike in the hospitals and evaluated hospitalized cases,” he said. “Some patients are able to leave the hospital with oxygen and recover at home so we can relieve the hospitals. The hospitals are limited in supplies as well. That’s what the hospitals need right now. These containers that we purchase can be taken home to give patients the oxygen they need.”

In Harlingen, officials plan to distribute the units between Valley Baptist Medical Center and Harlingen Medical Center, Ramirez said.

“We’re still assessing needs,” he said. “We’re making assessment of hospital needs to see how much we can relieve — how many patients can be released home with oxygen. Based on the need, we’ll purchase additional units if necessary.”

Planning units’ distribution

At the county’s offices, emergency management coordinator Tom Hushen said the units are expected to arrive this week. Now, he said, officials are planning to distribute the units among the area’s hospitals. “We’re getting requests from hospitals to see what’s needed,” Hushen said. “We’re going to distribute them based on need.”

After patients use the units, the oxygen concentrators will be decontaminated and put back into use if they’re needed, he said.

“If we can help people and help free hospital beds, that’s what we’re here for,” Hushen said. “We’re doing everything we can to get the patients out of the hospital as quick as we can so we can free beds for other patients.”