EDINBURG, TEXAS – The chairman of DHR Health is concerned Rio Grande Valley residents with non-COVID-19 illnesses are not visiting their doctor for fear they could catch the virus.

Dr. Carlos Cardenas gave an in-depth interview to The Rio Grande Guardian about how his hospital is coping during the current coronavirus pandemic. It followed on from a recent Zoom conversation with Cardenas’ colleague, Dr. Robert Martinez, chief medical officer at DHR Health.

“What nobody has really talked about is we have a significant amount of illness and disease in the community that did not go away. It is still here,” Cardenas said.

“COVID was distraction in one way but it does not take away the fact that we still have people who have ongoing problems and issues that need to be dealt with.”

Cardenas was a co-founder of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. The health system changed its name to DHR Health a couple of years ago.

Cardenas said DHR has gone to great lengths to provide a safe place for people to come to access the care that they need.

“There are other illnesses that march forward and without proper attention, small problems can become big problems,” he said.

“As we say, and ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So, getting the word out to the community, my message is: don’t sit at home with your illness or your problems, come see your family doctor or at least pick up the telephone and call. Let them know what is going on so that we can continue to tend to you and the things that you need apart from COVID-19.”

Asked if DHR has been able to cope with its regular, non-COVID-19, workload during the pandemic, Cardenas said:

“Absolutely. I think what we have seen is a decrease in the volume because I think people were afraid to come to the hospital. That is understandable but at the same time to sit at home with a problem or a condition, that needs tending is something you pay for in the long term. It should be handled when it is a smaller problem, rather than when it is a bigger problem. Those are the kinds of messages we need to get out to the community.”

Cardenas said DHR is not doing anything different on the front end. He said the fact that families cannot see their loved ones in hospital is a precautionary step to ensure their safety.

“We are trying to keep you safe and keep patients safe, we are trying to keep our staff safe. There are an abundance of examples of what happens when you don’t follow those rules. They are hard. This is not easy to do, particularly in our culture here, very difficult to do, But, we do all we can to look at each case individually and do what we can for the families who are in need, and to deliver it in a safe way with the best of what we know about the situation we are dealing with.”

Dealing with COVID-19

Cardenas said the fact that the Valley is geographically isolated meant some personal protection equipment did not find its way to South Texas. As a result, DHR staff took matters into their own hands, he said, and started to manufacture its own PPE.

Cardenas said that when the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic hit, it was clear that his hospital did not possess the inventory needed to cope. So, staff got to work making the PPE products that were needed.

“It is when you are tested, that is when you learn about the mettle you have in your leadership team. I tell you what, I’ll take the mettle of ours against anybody’s. We have a fantastic team and the fact that they were able to work together and innovate, and create the personal protective equipment we needed… was amazing.”

Cardenas said he is proud of the fact DHR Health has not furloughed a single full-time employee during the pandemic.

“We all sacrificed. We all learned to do things in a new way, a different way. It took an amount of skill we learned in our training and the experience we have had for years and were able to apply that.”

By way of example, Cardenas cited teleconferencing and telemedicine.

He also said DHR Health has also been at the forefront on research.

“We are one of the sites that can do Remdesivir. We are participating in a clinical trial where we have already administered convalescent serum. That is the serum that is from someone who has recovered from COVID-19 that we infuse into someone who is very ill with it. We participated in some of those trails and treated patients with that.”

Cardenas said that to be involved in cutting edge research such as this is a breakthrough for the Valley.

“It is exciting stuff. Things we used to dream about a few years ago. We are actually doing it. These are very interesting and tough times. We are all trying to adjust. I am an optimist at heart and we continue to be very optimistic about the situation. We do not see our present approach changing any time in the near future.”

Cardenas ended the interview by urging Valley residents to stay vigilant in the battle against COVID-19.

“We are not letting up one iota until we actually see a drop in incidents, a drop in cases. Several things need to happen before we come close to thinking about relaxing what we are doing now,” Cardenas said.

And he gave another shoutout to the whole DHR team.

“They are stellar. We call it La Familia. That is who we are, all of us. I am very proud of our entire team, every single person stepped up. We had people doing things that they would not normally be doing. For example, we had some of our nursing staff taking their seamstress skills and applying them, and making masks for their fellow employees. Hats off to our entire team.”

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