The COVID-19 Crisis in South Texas Spirals Out of Control
There is a crisis on the border. People are dying in South Texas. The COVID-19 pandemic is out of control, and no one is listening. Hospitals are out of beds with no ventilators to spare. Hospitals have surpassed hospital capacity.
The Rio Grande Valley is a small group of cities near the tip of the Texas border including McAllen, Harlingen, Weslaco, Mercedes, Pharr, Donna, Brownsville, Alamo, and Edinburg.
Starr County Memorial Hospital activated an ethics committee to determine which patients “will be better-taken care of in the love of their own family.” Those patients who have low probability of surviving will be sent home.
Remember when Americans were worried about death panels? Well, now death panels are the new normal in South Texas.
A team consisting of a primary care physician, an emergency or attending physician, a social worker, and one of the hospital administrators will make these end-of-life decisions.
My colleague and her ICU husband work in a local hospital and share their experience to draw attention and get help to save lives. Their hospital ICU is equipped for 15 patients. Today it has 45.
There are no ICU beds in the Rio Grande Valley. The ICUs ran out of Remdesivir, Propofol, sedation medications, syringes, and respirators. Having run out of fever cooling blankets a long time ago, the current ICU cooling protocol is “to pour ice on them.”
To make things worse, the hospitals are running out of nurses and phlebotomists. Agency nurses from Florida and New York are fleeing shortly after arrival when they see the dangerous situation. With 10% of Texas deaths coming from the Rio Grande Valley, their flight to safety is not surprising.
Another hospital, Doctors Hospital at Reinassance, has an ICU meant to care for 50 patients. Today it has 200.
Doctors have brought foam from home to create makeshift proning equipment to try save lives, but the deaths are coming so fast families can not set a date for the burial.
Nurses and physicians are often seen crying on the floor in desperation. Physician leaders have contacted Governor Abbott begging for a complete shutdown to buy time to decompress the hospitals. They have also asked for national guard pop-ups hospitals.
So far their cries for help have been ignored.
One hospital has set up a tent outside a free-standing ER to hold 20 patients waiting for a hospital bed. They often die while waiting.
My physician friend warns we will “hear in the news that beds are available.” She begs a reporter to come down to South Texas and see the devastation first hand.