Samaritan’s Purse set up emergency field hospitals in New York at the height of the city’s battle against COVID-19.

McALLEN, Texas – U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez has criticized Gov. Greg Abbott’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis on many occasions. 

Now, Gov. Abbott has reportedly blocked Gonzalez’s initiative to bring an emergency field hospital to Hidalgo County.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Samaritan’s Purse wouldn’t be coming to the Rio Grande Valley.

“In a statement, the organization said the governor’s office had told it the state would offer the region extra doctors and nurses and believes that is “sufficient now to meet the community’s need,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

The newspaper noted that Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez had said at a news conference that the State of Texas is sending 80 medical professionals as well as more funeral directors to the Valley. “Mr. Abbott said he would look at options to increase hospital capacity there,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

John Wittman, communications director for Gov. Abbott, told Ron Whitlock Reports: “The Governor will not put Texans on 141 degree asphalt. Instead, the state has found a much better solution. Texas is setting up hotels as alternative care sites which provide more capacity and also ensure patients have air conditioning, their own bathroom and shower.”

Wittman said Gonzalez was not showing consistency in his requests to Gov. Abbott, pointing out that in another case, the congressman said Texas “must consider the utilization of available resources prior to alternative sites.”

Melissa Strickland, senior director of communications for Samaritan’s Purse, issued this statement:

“While in McAllen, our assessment team did visit a convention center and discuss multiple options with Dr. Melendez and community representatives. Samaritan’s Purse is required to work under the umbrella and licensure of a local hospital entity with their support in a U.S. emergency medical response. Due to the geographical distance of the off-site location, the potential local hospital partner expressed that they would not be able to extend their licensure or the needed support services. However, they were able and willing to extend their licensure and support to our emergency field hospital if our tents were located at their site. In addition, Samaritan’s Purse would also have to receive waivers from Texas state authorities for our medical staff to practice there. As previously stated, we are ready to deploy an emergency field hospital to help if needed and requested by the governor.”

Rep. Gonzalez unveiled Samaritan’s Purse as a potential provider of an emergency field hospital at a news conference at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. Edward Graham, assistant to the vice president of Samaritan’s Purse, spoke at the news conference. 

Gonzalez told the Rio Grande Guardian at the news conference that he initiated the efforts to bring the nonprofit to Hidalgo County, having seen the help the group provided in New York City. He said Valley hospitals have been “overwhelmed” by the surge in COVID-19 cases.

On Thursday, Congressman Gonzalez issued this statement following the Wall Street Journal revelation:

“I’m disappointed and saddened by the news of the Governor’s actions to disallow Samaritan’s Purse to establish a field hospital in the Rio Grande Valley. The Governor needs to let those who want to help our overextended and exhausted medical personnel in South Texas do so. We have people who are suffering and dying. How can any Governor see fit to deny a field hospital and critical medical services to overrun COVID-19 hospitals?

“I urge Governor Abbott to reconsider this decision and expedite the deployment of a field hospital by Samaritan’s Purse to the Rio Grande Valley. McAllen and South Texas need help now. 

“The strategy to reopen the Texas economy early and ignore the advice from medical experts like Dr. Fauci caused this devastation and now South Texans are paying the price. We urge the Governor’s support and ask that he invite Samaritan’s Purse to South Texas.  I am here to work with him. We can’t afford to play politics with people’s lives at stake during this pandemic.”

At Tuesday’s news conference at the McAllen Chamber, Gonzalez said Samaritan’s Purse has a medical team with expertise in infectious diseases. “They have worked in Africa during the Ebola crisis. They have worked in Italy during the COVID crisis. They set up a COVID unit in Central Park which saved a lot of New Yorkers’ lives.”

Gonzalez acknowledged Samaritan’s Purse would not have been the complete solution.

“They (Samaritan’s Purse) would not be the complete solution but any help is help. If we get ten beds, if we get 50 beds, that takes the pressure off our local hospitals. At this point I am looking anywhere I can to find ways to help our community, not just the state and federal government, but also private organizations that have the expertise and resources to come down here and help us get this disease under control in our community.” 

Asked how bad things are in Valley hospitals, Gonzalez said: “They have a lack of PPE, they are running short on nurses, they are running short on respiratory therapists.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows U.s. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez and Edward Graham, assistant to the vice president of Samaritan’s Purse International Relief.

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