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470 medical professionals and support personnel have recently come, or are on the way, from throughout Texas to help Valley hospitals battle COVID-19, says Sen. Hinojosa - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured, from left: Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernández, MD, who also serves as Chief Medical Compliance Officer, DHR Health; and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville. The South Texas leaders are shown here on Friday, June 5, 2020 at the Pharr Events Center.

Photograph Courtesy CITY OF PHARR

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470 medical professionals and support personnel have recently come, or are on the way, from throughout Texas to help Valley hospitals battle COVID-19, says Sen. Hinojosa

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
[email protected]

Since late June 2019, as many as 470 medical professionals and support personnel from outside of deep South Texas have come, or are on the way, to hospitals and medical centers in the Rio Grande Valley to help in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, announced on Sunday, July 5, 2020.

As the 4th of July 2020 weekend came to an end, local hospitals remained at near capacity, another 547 Hidalgo County residents learned they had tested positive for the virus, Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortéz said. As of that date, Hidalgo County has reported 5,345 known positive cases of COVID-19, 571 people were in the hospital with the disease, with 144 of those being treated in intensive care units. There have been 59 fatalities in Hidalgo County from COVID-19.

Also on Sunday, July 5, 2020, 235 people had been released isolation, meaning that they have been symptom-free for 10 days, including three days without a fever. As of that date, there were 3,452 net active cases and 2,449 test results pending.  

Hinojosa confirmed that the Office of the Governor and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) have deployed 628 individuals via the BCFS Health and Human Services’ Emergency Management Division, which is part of a global system of non-profit organizations serving communities around the world. 

The vital additional personnel, along with key medical equipment, is being provided in response to the requests from county judges and hospital administrators in the Rio Grande Valley requesting additional personnel assistance from the state. 

“I appreciate the requests and tireless efforts from our South Texas county judges and hospital administrators to respond to the increase in the number of hospitalizations due to complications from COVID-19. We are thankful to Gov. Greg Abbott and our state agencies for quickly acting on our requests and providing relief to our region,” said Hinojosa. “To carry out our mission to successfully provide the health care needs for COVID-19 it requires everyone at all levels of government working together. We are all in this together, and we can only succeed through collective action where everyone is working toward solving this crisis as one community.”

In a related development, the Rio Grande Valley news media, which has been providing in-depth local coverage on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in deep South Texas, can continue to help by directly applying pressure to state and national leaders to send more resources to the four-county border region, said Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville.

“We need for the governor (Greg Abbott) to make it a priority to dedicate funds at his disposal – be it federal CARES Act funding, unexpended general revenue, or Rainy Day monies – we need him to take action and send critical funds where they are needed the most, to our Valley hospitals,” Lucio said. “The rising tide of coronavirus patients is straining our public health system, and we need to get the message out. We need all of our local resources, including our Valley media, to partner up with us so that our state leaders hear our call for help.”

Lucio’s call to action for the South Texas Press Corps came on Wednesday, July 1, 2020, during the quarterly Public Affairs Livestream held at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, a presentation that was broadcast live on the Internet, but without an audience in order to protect the public health by avoiding large gatherings, where the COVID-19 virus can more easily be spread.

“Just last week, I released a June 25 (2020) letter I sent to Gov. Abbott in which I argued that the Rio Grande Valley, an underserved border region, is in dire need for greater personal protective equipment, increased free testing, additional financial help, and more resources, including greater local control authority,” he said. “I wish the media had covered that letter because our border region is economically challenged, and our local economy has been devastated; we have unemployment rates that far exceed those of the state.”

On Friday, June 26, 2020, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortéz sent an urgent request to Dr. John Hellerstedt, Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services and the members of the Rio Grande Valley state legislative delegation for assistance in the form of additional medical staff and the equipment necessary to provide for the health and safety of the citizens of Hidalgo County. 

Hinojosa immediately engaged the Office of the Governor, DSHS, and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM). By Monday, June 29, 2020, the state had deployed 112 staff to Edinburg and 46 to McAllen with the commitment to deploy more during the week. 

As of Sunday, July 4, 2020, the following medical professionals and support staff, totaling 628 individuals, had been provided to Starr, Hidalgo, Cameron, and Willacy Counties:

• Doctors Hospital Renaissance in Edinburg: 354 staff;
• Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen: 56 staff;
• Edinburg Regional Medical Center in Edinburg: 55 staff;
• Rio Grande Regional Hospital in McAllen: 46 staff;
• Valley Baptist Medical Center in Brownsville: 32 staff;
• Starr County Memorial: 27 staff;
• Harlingen Medical Center in Harlingen: 22 staff;
• Harlingen Regional Medical Center in Brownsville: 28 staff; and
• McAllen Heart Hospital in Edinburg: 8 staff;

In addition to the staff deployed via BCFS Health and Human Services’ Emergency Management Division, Hinojosa said the following requests are in process:

• Ambulance strike team assistance and lab technician assistance to Starr County ;
• An additional nurse deploying to Starr County;
• 32 staff for Knapp Medical Center in Weslaco;
• Ventilator deployment to the region tomorrow;
• Ventilator deployment to Doctors Hospital tonight (10);
• Ventilators at Mission Regional Medical Center and South Texas Health Systems (3 each);
• Ambulance strike teams in Hidalgo and Cameron counties; and
• Epidemiologist surge for the region.

SEN. LUCIO CALLS ON VALLEY NEWS MEDIA TO PRESSURE STATE AND NATIONAL LEADERS TO SEND MORE RESOURCES TO HELP VALLEY FIGHT COVID-19 PANDEMIC

The Rio Grande Valley press corps, which has been providing in-depth local coverage on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in deep South Texas, can continue to help by increasing news interviews with state and national leaders in Austin and Washington, D.C., in the hope of applying additional direct pressure on the powers-that-be to send more resources to the four-county border region, said Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville.

“We need for the governor (Greg Abbott) to make it a priority to dedicate funds at his disposal – be it federal CARES Act funding, unexpended general revenue, or Rainy Day monies – we need him to take action and send critical funds where they are needed the most, to our Valley hospitals,” Lucio said. “The rising tide of coronavirus patients is straining our public health system, and we need to get the message out. We need all of our local resources, including our Valley media, to partner up with us so that our state leaders hear our call for help.”

Lucio’s remarks came on Wednesday, July 1, 2020, during the quarterly Public Affairs Livestream held at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, a presentation that was broadcast live on the Internet and without an audience in attendance in order to protect the public health by avoiding large public gatherings.

The event, of which the videotape coverage remains online on the Facebook for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce (https://www.facebook.com/edinburg.chamber/), was coordinated by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, and sponsored by Bert Ogden Auto Group, Magic Valley Electric Cooperative, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and DHR Health.

Lucio was joined at the Public Affairs Livestream by leaders with the region’s largest hospital systems and one of the top officials with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine, with Hinojosa provided his perspectives through a videotaped recording.

In addition to Hinojosa and Lucio, the event, which was conducted as a panel discussion, included Carlos Cárdenas, MD, Chair, Board of Managers, DHR Health, Lance Ames, CEO, Edinburg Regional Medical Center and Edinburg Children’s Hospital, Cris Rivera, CEO, Rio Grande Regional Hospital in McAllen, and John H. Krouse, MD, PhD, MBA, Executive Vice President for Health Affairs, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and Dean, UTRGV School of Medicine.

Former Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, Vice President for Governmental and Community Relations for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, served as the moderator for the event.

Lucio’s prepared remarks, which he delivered during the Public Affairs Livestream, follow:

“It is a pleasure to join you today in this most important event. As news outlets and the state health department have reported, we are continuing to see daily increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across our state.  

“Locally, as our local hospital panelists can share, the sharp increase in cases is straining our ability to maintain our local public health capacity. 

“Before I continue, I would like to take a moment to commend our hospitals, doctors, and medical support staff for working tirelessly around-the-clock to protect our constituents.  As one of the state senators representing this region, I thank you for being in the front lines fighting to save lives each and every day. 

“In the last several months – during these most trying, unprecedented times – we have seen communities in the Rio Grande Valley (from Brownsville to Mission) come together as one region.  All of us are working together to increase the resources, attention, and assistance for our Valley community. 

“No one, absolutely no one, has failed to act. Everyone is actively doing their best to communicate with our state leaders on what additional help and resources our region needs to keep our constituents safe and healthy. If you hear otherwise, consider the source; either they are uninformed or misleading.

“I can honestly say that Sen. (Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen) and I are in constant communication with our state leaders on the needs of our communities. We are in weekly calls with Gov. (Greg) Abbott and Lt. Gov. (Dan) Patrick and their staff, as well as with the heads of state agencies, like Chief Nim Kidd from the Texas Division of Emergency Management, and my dear friend Commissioner John Hellerstedt from the Texas Department of State Health Services. Our message is clear: the Valley needs help to keep the families in our region safe and healthy.

“Just last week, I released a June 25 (2020) letter I sent to Gov. Abbott in which I argued that the Rio Grande Valley, an underserved border region, is in dire need for greater personal protective equipment, increased free testing, additional financial help, and more resources, including greater local control authority.

“I wish the media had covered that letter because our border region is economically challenged, and our local economy has been devastated; we have unemployment rates that far exceed those of the state.

“We do not have the tax base to provide the critical resources that are needed to address the soaring COVID-19 outbreak. Our state leaders need to know that unlike like Dallas and Austin, we do not have the tax base to finance locally the creation of isolated environments to expand our capacity or to retrofit, renovate, or build facilities to keep up with the surging outbreak.

“Our border economy is dependent on trade and commerce, which has been devastated by the pandemic. We need Texas to help. Knowing that the surge of COVID-19 patients has resulted in more than a 500 percent increase in hospitalization in our local hospitals, the time to act from the state is now.

“We need for the governor to make it a priority to dedicate funds at his disposal – be it federal CARES Act funding, unexpended general revenue, or Rainy Day monies – we need him to take action and send critical funds where they are needed the most, to our Valley hospitals.  

“The rising tide of coronavirus patients is straining our public health system, and we need to get the message out. We need all of our local resources, including our Valley media, to partner up with us so that our state leaders hear our call for help, just like the issues outlined in my June 25 letter to Gov. Abbott.

“Thinking pro-actively, we also need our congressional delegation to continue to flex their power in Washington. We need to ensure that future federal new CARES Act Funding includes a direct allocation for underserved communities like the Rio Grande Valley, and especially for our Valley hospitals. Regions across the nation with emerging populations of racial minorities that predominantly have shouldered the brunt of the pandemic and that lack a local public health care district need to have dedicated funding. Why? Because that is where the help is needed the most.

“Being pro-active – unified with the best interests of our region – we can ensure that we have the necessary funds and resources to have the necessary health care capacity to be able to take care of COVID-19 patients, along with non-coronavirus patients. We need to be able to have isolated environments to protect the most vulnerable populations. And we need the necessary resources to support the socio-economic recovery of underserved regions like the Valley.

“It is inspiring to see how our communities are coming together to combat the public health threat that is wreaking havoc throughout the nation. To see our county judges work hand-in-hand, to hear our mayors jointly passing ordinances, to be among the CEOs of our hospitals developing health care capacity solutions, and to read about our congressional delegation echoing the sentiments that Sen. Hinojosa and I have been sharing with our state leaders. Truly, our region has a unified front against the coronavirus outbreak.

“We must continue to be relentless in our efforts, which is why I am so thankful for being here with you this morning. I want to hear your concerns so that I convey to our state leaders the needs of our Valley community. To those who may see this forum being broadcasted, please feel free to share your concerns and recommendations to my Texas Senate email at [email protected] so that together, we can continue to see results in the immediate future. Thank you.”

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Louie Sánchez and Héctor Becerra contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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