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Featured: Robert David Martínez, MD, Chief Medical Officer, on Thursday, September 5, 2020, during the grand opening ceremony for the DHR Health Medical Office Building in Edinburg.

Featured: Robert David Martínez, MD, Chief Medical Officer, on Thursday, September 5, 2020, during the grand opening ceremony for the DHR Health Medical Office Building in Edinburg.

Photograph Courtesy DHR HEALTH

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As Gov. Abbott boosts statewide responses to COVID-19, DHR Health “is ready and prepared to deal with this crisis,” says Robert D. Martínez, MD

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
[email protected]

On the same day that Gov. Greg Abbott issued four executive orders designed to aid in the state’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, DHR Health announced its partnership with The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine and other hospitals in deep South Texas to “minimize the impact of COVID-19 while serving as a calming voice for our communities.”

Throughout most of the world, COVID-19 – which is an infectious disease caused by a coronavirus – has been rapidly spreading mainly through person-to-person contact. The early symptoms of COVID-19 include:

• Fever
• Cough
• Shortness of breath

The virus can lead to pneumonia, respiratory failure, septic shock, and death. If a person notices these severe symptoms in themself or a loved one, they must get medical attention right away.

https://www.webmd.com/lung/what-is-covid-19#1

“We’d like the community to know that DHR Health is ready and prepared to deal with this crisis,” said Robert David Martínez, MD, Chief Medical Officer, DHR Health.

“We have been planning for this for a long time. We are ready, contingencies are in place. Our acute clinics and urgent cares will be open, our emergency rooms will be open,”  Martínez said. “We encourage you to contact your primary care physician, and if you are acutely ill, of course, the emergency rooms.”

His comments came during a  Thursday, March 19, 2020 afternoon press conference which also featured representatives for South Texas Health System, Harlingen Medical Center, Knapp Medical Center, Mission Regional Medical Center, Rio Grande Regional Hospital, Valley Regional Medical Center, Starr County Memorial Hospital, UTRGV School of Medicine, and Valley Baptist Medical Center.

“All hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley, along with UTRGV’s School of Medicine, are dedicated to protecting the health and well-being of patients – and health care teams as they work to minimize the impact of COVID-19 while serving as a calming voice for our communities,” said Michael Dobbs, MD, MHCM, Chief Medical Officer for UTRGV’s School of Medicine.

“We come before you today to share in a lined message from our medical community,” Dobbs continued. “All hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley, along with UTRGV’s School of Medicine, are dedicated to protecting the health and well-being of patients – and health care teams as they work to minimize the impact of COVID-19 while serving as a calming voice for our communities.”

Anchored in southwest Edinburg, with a growing presence in neighboring McAllen, DHR Health offers some of the most comprehensive medical care on the U.S. southern border, with more than 1,400 nurses and 600+ physicians providing care in 70+ specialties and sub-specialties.

DHR Health is the flagship teaching hospital for the UTRGV School of Medicine and encompasses a general acute hospital with the only dedicated women’s hospital South of San Antonio, a rehabilitation hospital, a behavioral hospital, more than 60 clinics Valley-wide, advanced cancer services, the only transplant program in the Rio Grande Valley – and the only functioning 24/7 Level 1 Trauma Center south of San Antonio.

DHR Health is headquartered on a 130-acre site, with most of the facilities in southwest Edinburg but with a growing South Campus immediately across Owassa Road in northwest McAllen.

The pledge of unity by these major health care providers included the following declarations during the news conference:

• Kayne Dawson, Prime Health Care: I would like to assure the public that they are are all familiar faces. We come together not only in times of uncertainty, but every day through the Valley to help improve the lives of patients and their care. Our partnerships with the university are strong in medical school.

• Doug Colburn, South Texas Health System: We have planned for this scenario and other public health scenarios. We’re ready to treat the community of the Valley as a unified front, all the hospitals inclusive working together to treat the public. South Texas Health System is fully open for business at our free-standing emergency departments and our hospitals in McAllen and Edinburg.

• José Andrés Vázquez, MD: On behalf of Starr County as well as the Starr County Memorial Hospital District. I am here with a message of optimism as well as assurance for our community. I want to reiterate that we are making every possible effort in our hands to try to mitigate and contain this threat we have in our communities. We are going to be strong in our response. The partnership we have here today with all of these Valley organizations and hospitals is of fundamental value to try to keep this situation under control and prevail and assure our communities that your health is in good hands.

Dobbs said that the hospitals, the UTRGV School of Medicine, and Hidalgo County, Cameron County, Starr County, and Willacy County have aligned with emergency management and health departments to remind everyone to follow the guidelines set forth by local, state and federal officials. 

He emphasized that the region’s medical institutes and UTRGV’s School of Medicine, with a united voice, remind citizens of the following:

• Check your hospital or university’s website for up to date visitation policies. Given the fluid nature of COVID-19, these policies are subject to change, and some facilities have already had to limit access to most visitors with some exceptions.  

DHR Health’s Facebook page is available online at:

• If you are visiting a local hospital, please give yourself extra time, as hospital entrances have been reduced with extra screenings taking place at all remaining entrances in order to protect healthcare workers our patients. 

• If you personally are not feeling well, contact your health provider first before you go there. As always, hospital emergency rooms are open for emergency care.

• You should continue practicing proper personal hygiene, including, importantly, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time you wash. 

• As the novel coronavirus creates unprecedented challenges nationwide, we are continuing to provide the best possible healthcare across our communities. 

“We remain committed to stand together and provide the highest standard of health care to our communities. We urge the public to do their part and please check your hospital, university or county website for further COVID-19 health alerts,” Dobbs said.

GOV. ABBOTT ISSUES EXECUTIVE ORDERS IN ACCORDANCE WITH FEDERAL GUIDELINES TO MITIGATE SPREAD OF COVID-19 IN TEXAS

Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday, March 19, 2020, announced a series of Executive Orders relating to COVID-19 preparedness and mitigation. The four orders serve to limit public gatherings and help reduce exposure for people across the state. These orders are in accordance with federal guidelines issued by the President and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and will aid in the state’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Abbott was joined for the announcement by Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD, Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) Chief Nim Kidd, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dennis Bonnen.

Hellerstedt also announced that he has declared a Public Health Disaster which will give state and local officials additional tools to respond to COVID-19. The Governor’s Executive Orders, combined with the Public Health Disaster, provide Texas with enhanced tools and protocols to help state and local partners in their ongoing efforts to respond to, track the progress of, and limit the spread of COVID-19 in Texas. 

“The State of Texas is at a pivotal moment in our response to COVID-19, and it is imperative that we act now on preemptive measures to slow the spread of this virus,” said Abbott. “One of the most effective ways we can do this is by promoting more social distancing and ensuring Texans avoid large group settings such as bars, restaurants, gyms, and schools where the risk of spreading COVID-19 is high. 

“We must also continue to protect our most vulnerable populations, which is why the State of Texas is barring all visitations at nursing homes and retirement or long-term care facilities except in the case of critical assistance. 

“Today’s executive orders are precautionary measures that are in line with guidelines from the CDC and they will strengthen Texas’ ability to safeguard our communities and respond to COVID-19. As Texans, we must continue to work collaboratively to slow the spread of this virus and protect public health.”

The following orders have been issued by Abbott: 

Order No. 1: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, every person in Texas shall avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people;

Order No. 2: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, people shall avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants, and food courts, or visiting gyms or massage parlors; provided, however, that the use of drive-thru, pickup, or delivery options is allowed and highly encouraged throughout the limited duration of this executive order;

Order No. 3: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, people shall not visit nursing homes or retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance; and

Order No. 4: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, schools shall temporarily close.

These orders went into effect on a statewide basis at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 20, 2020, and will end at 11:59 PM on Friday, April 3, 2020, subject to extension thereafter based on the status of COVID-19 in Texas and the recommendations of the CDC.

This executive order does not prohibit people from visiting a variety of places, including grocery stores, gas stations, parks, and banks, so long as the necessary precautions are maintained to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. This executive order does not mandate sheltering in place. All critical infrastructure will remain operational, domestic travel will remain unrestricted, and government entities and businesses will continue providing essential services. 

For offices and workplaces that remain open, employees should practice good hygiene and, where feasible, work from home in order to achieve optimum isolation from COVD-19. The more that people reduce their public contact, the sooner COVID-19 will be contained and the sooner this executive order will expire.

Under Chapter 81 of the Health and Safety Code, Commissioner Hellerstedt’s Public Health Disaster Declaration triggers a number of important tools for state and local officials to respond to COVID-19:

• Texas and local health authorities can more easily require property owners to disinfect, decontaminate, and seal off property that might be contaminated;

• It authorizes health authorities to take additional control measures that they see fit to control and eradicate the threat to public health;

• It streamlines the process for state and local health authorities to invoke the courts to enforce quarantines of individuals; and

• Activates enhanced tools for DSHS to collect disease and health information and to share that information with law enforcement personnel and first responders as appropriate.

GOV. ABBOTT ANNOUNCES INCREASED SUPPLY OF PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, held a press conference to provide an update on incoming supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other resources to aid Texas’ response to COVID-19. 

Abbott announced that the newly established Supply Chain Strike Force has already secured more than $83 million of purchase orders for essential supplies. Additionally, the governor announced that the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) will begin receiving 100,000 masks per day by the end of this week and the Supply Chain Strike Force will begin receiving an additional 100,000 masks per day by the end of next week — meaning the State of Texas will soon be receiving more than one million masks per week.

The governor also announced the launch of an online portal run by the Supply Chain Strike Force to streamline the process and validation of leads for more supplies. The portal, accessible through http://www.texas.gov, will serve as an intake process for those wanting to provide valid leads on PPE and donations. The portal also serves as a portal for those wanting to donate supplies, services, or your time —including medical professionals and nurses looking to volunteer.

“The State of Texas is rapidly accelerating the purchasing and delivery of essential personal protection equipment and other supplies to aid in our COVID-19 response,” said Abbott. “The Supply Chain Strike Force is working in concert with the Texas Division of Emergency Management to secure these vital resources and to swiftly distribute them to medical professionals, hospitals, and first responders in communities throughout the state. We thank all those who have already offered donations to meet our supply needs. I urge all Texans who would like to donate essential supplies and all medical professionals who are willing to volunteer their time and expertise to visit http://www.texas.gov to find out how they can help.”

The governor also issued an Executive Order to better track both hospital bed capacity and COVID-19 test results across the state. The Executive Order requires all hospitals, excluding psychiatric hospitals, to submit daily reports on hospital bed capacity to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) who will then share this information with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The order also requires every public or private entity utilizing FDA-approved COVID-19 tests to submit daily reports of all results to the local health department and DSHS who will then share this information with the CDC. 

The governor was joined at the press conference by:

John Hellerstedt, MD, Commissioner, DSHS;
Nim Kidd, Chief, TDEM;
Luis Rios, MD, President, Texas Society of Plastic Surgeons;
Raymond Risk, CEO and President, Texas Construction Association;
David Fleeger, MD, President, Texas Medical Association;
Mahlon Kerr, MD, President, Austin Society of Plastic Surgeons;
Kenneth Shaffer, MD, President/Governor, Texas Chapter of American College of Cardiology; and
David Yu, DDS, MS, Member, Texas Society of Periodontists.

View the Governor’s Executive Order. 

TEXANS URGED TO USE 2-1-1 TEXAS SOCIAL SERVICES HOTLINE FOR COVID-19 INFORMATION AND REFERRALS

Texas Health and Human Services encourages all Texans in need of COVID-19 information and referrals to community resources to call the 2-1-1 Texas hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  

“As we encourage people to use social distancing and to stay at home when possible, this state resource can help the public stay informed, stay calm and stay safe,” said Wayne Salter, HHS Deputy Executive Commissioner of Access and Eligibility Services. “Our trained staff are working tirelessly around the clock to respond to all the public’s questions, through 2-1-1 as well as our HHS social media platforms.”

Texans, no matter where they live, can dial 2-1-1 or (877) 541-7905 and select option 6 to get information and referrals to COVID-19 social services, including testing, community clinics, unemployment benefits and more.

Texans can also dial 2-1-1 to find information about local community resources such as financial assistance for utilities or rent and food pantries, housing assistance, crisis counseling, utility payment assistance, and senior services.

Call center operators answered more than 785,000 calls by Texans for information and services during Hurricane Harvey and are available to help during this public health crisis

For general health-related information and precautions on COVID-19, visit the DSHS website and the CDC page.

Stay up-to-date on the latest news and updates impacting HHS services and regulated providers by visiting the HHS COVID-19 page.

For more information on the state hotline, visit 211texas.org.

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Christine Mann contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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