Task force supports local hospital through storm, COVID-19

Courtesy photo U.S. Army North Task Force 51 Commander, Maj. Gen. John King, left, speaks with 1st Lt. James William, right, a nurse assigned to Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force 16, during his operational update and tour of McAllen Medical Center on July 19 in McAllen.

McALLEN — For the past week, a medical task force of dozens of personnel from across the nation have been added to McAllen Medical Center’s healthcare muscle confronting the region’s upswing of COVID-19 cases, compounded with the aftermath of Hurricane Hanna.

In response to the statewide surge of virus cases, and at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Northern Command deployed about 580 military and support personnel from the Army and Navy to Texas with 86 being sent to McAllen.

The response team, known as the Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force, mostly came from North Carolina and arrived July 16. Since then, the team has integrated into multiple departments of the McAllen hospital’s workforce.

“It’s been incredible,” Lt. Col. Colin Frament, who has led the deployed task force, said Monday. “We got on the ground and we were welcomed with open arms by the medical staff of the McAllen Medical Center. We integrated very quickly and smoothly, and the staff was incredibly receptive. We got our team members involved very quickly and worked as one large medical team.”

When the team composed of people from a variety of medical backgrounds — including nurses, physicians and technicians — arrived, the hospital had been able to add another COVID-19 unit, increasing its virus capacity by 33 beds.

The need for the task force became more important as the already coronavirus-riddled region braced for Hurricane Hanna, a Category 1 storm that made landfall Saturday.

However, a couple days after the region braved through the worst of the hurricane, McAllen Medical Center CEO Todd Mann said the activity at the hospital has been relatively calm. The inflow of patients has slightly declined, along with the volume ER cases.

“It is still a bit early to know if that was related specifically to the hurricane or if that is the trend moving forward,” he said.

There were no operational issues for the hospital during the hurricane, according to Mann. Though, he emphasized that the hospital is thankful for the added help of the task force.

“We are so grateful to have them assisting our staff and helping to take care of our communities,” he said. “… They are heroes, but they are also humans, and they are tired and scared as well, and these folks showed up and provided us with the assistance that they have — and it is truly a godsend.”

Frament said whether it be a pandemic or hurricane, the undertaking of the task force is to help the area.

“The mission when we got on the ground was to integrate with Mr. Mann and his team here at the hospital, and provide them in areas that were identified as needs,” he said. “… The purpose is to meet the needs of the hospital, to increase capability and capacity.”