Officials clear ‘snag’ to patient transfers; Casa de Amistad ‘temporary COVID-19 field hospital’

Courtesy: City of Harlingen

HARLINGEN — Officials are clearing up a “snag” holding back hospitals from transferring recovered COVID-19 patients to the state’s second-largest recovery center set up at Casa de Amistad.

Meanwhile, Hidalgo County hospitals have begun transferring patients to Texas’ largest COVID-19 recovery center at the McAllen Convention Center.

Since late last week, local officials have been waiting for Cameron County hospitals to begin transferring patients to the 13,000-square-foot Harlingen convention hall that’s been converted into a recovery center as part of a plan to free hospital beds.

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott announced plans to launch the projects to turn the two convention centers into the state’s largest COVID-19 recovery centers in the region lacking medical resources to care for a population plagued with some of the state’s highest rates of medical complications including obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

Abbott’s plan aims to free beds in hospitals which have reached capacity as a result of a surge of COVID-19 patients amid a dramatic rise in new cases.

On Wednesday, state officials were sending Cameron County’s hospitals paperwork documenting hospital licensing in order to help them begin transferring patients to the Harlingen recovery center, Tom Hushen, the county’s emergency management coordinator, said, adding officials were clearing what he described as a paperwork “snag.”

“We’re hoping they’ll start transferring (today),” he said, describing the recovery center as a “mini-hospital.”

Meanwhile, the hospitals’ doctors have been selecting patients to be transferred to the facility whose acuity level won’t be as high as a hospital’s care, Josh Ramirez, Harlingen’s public health director, said.

“The hospitals have already identified the patients,” he said. “You’ve got to look at medical histories — what medical conditions the patient comes with and what possible conditions that patient can develop. They have to make sure the patient is the right patient for the facility.”

Courtesy: City of Harlingen

‘Temporary COVID-19 field hospital’

In Harlingen, the city offered the conference hall to serve as a “temporary COVID-19 field hospital.”

“The city’s objective is to support the hospitals by easing some of the strain on their facilities and staff,” Mayor Chris Boswell stated. “The state of Texas has not only transformed Casa de Amistad into a field hospital but brought more doctors, nurses and other support staff for this facility.”

The recovery center’s three eight-hour shifts will be made up of a 125-member staff including specialized doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists, city spokeswoman Irma Garza stated.

The Harlingen recovery center includes 25 low-acuity care beds and 25 medium-acuity care beds, “with the capacity to extend to 100 beds, if needed,” Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr., who announced plans to open the facility early last week, stated.

“We are very excited for the opening of Casa de Amistad in Harlingen as it will serve as a step-down acute care facility that will service all hospitals in Cameron County and alleviate over-capacity issues,” Treviño stated.

“I want to thank Gov. Abbott, his staff and the Texas Division of Emergency Management for the assistance and resources rendered in this endeavor and the Cameron County hospital administrators whom have been supportive and responsive all throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This step-down facility is a reflection of the commitment of all local and elected leaders for the health, safety and protection of our community.”

At Harlingen’s City Hall, officials described the recovery center as a temporary field hospital for recovered COVID-19 patients who “no longer need acute care but still aren’t ready to go home.”

“Each of the 96 beds sits in its own space for privacy and all include an oxygen line should the patient require it,” city spokeswoman Irma Garza stated.

For the project, the state contracted SLS, a Galveston-based company that converted New York City’s Billie Jean King Tennis Center and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal into COVID-19 field hospitals.

McAllen Convention Center opens to patients

On Tuesday afternoon, Hidalgo County hospitals transferred their first two patients to the 174,000-square-foot convention center that’s become the state’s largest COVID-19 recovery center to include as many as 250 beds, Seth Christensen, spokesman for the emergency management division in Austin, said.

On Wednesday, he said, the recovery center was on “stand by” to accept more patients.

Last week, Abbott outlined plans to convert part of the convention center into a COVID-19 recovery center to include 50 acute-care beds with the option of adding 200 acute or convalescent beds, “depending on the need,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez said last week.

Hospital patient transfers

In Cameron County, hospitals including Valley Baptist Medical Center, Harlingen Medical Center and Brownsville’s Valley Regional Medical Center will transfer patients to the recovery center at Casa de Amistad, Ramirez said.

Meanwhile, Hidalgo County hospitals will transfer their patients to the recovery center at the McAllen Convention Center, he said.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com