HARLINGEN, Texas – Valley Baptist Health System says it is now at full capacity with 40 percent of the workload of its hospital consumed by COVID-19 positive or suspected patients. 

The health system’s flagship hospital in Harlingen has 141 hospitalized COVID-19 related patients in its designated COVID-19 units. At its Brownsville hospital the number of hospitalized COVID-19 related patients is 97.

The health system is urging local residents to take all necessary precautions against the coronavirus.

“One of our biggest concerns during this entire pandemic has been to ensure that our hospitals remained well positioned with personal protective equipment, staff and capacity to care for our community. Over the past four months, our teams have done an incredible job managing in this new environment. However, we are now starting to feel the extreme surge of confirmed and/or suspected COVID-19 positive patients requiring hospitalization throughout the Rio Grande Valley and particularly at our three hospitals in Brownsville, Harlingen and Weslaco,” said Manny Vela, CEO for Valley Baptist Health System and Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen. 

Manny Vela

“Valley Baptist is at a critical capacity level just like every other hospital across our region. As of Friday afternoon, Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen has 141 hospitalized COVID-19 related patients in our designated COVID-19 units and Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville has 97. To put this in perspective for our community, our hospitals are now at a total of 102 percent and 101 percent occupancy, respectively and this includes both COVID-19 related and non COVID-19 related patient beds.” 

Vela pointed out that the surge in COVID-19 cases is straining the system’s ability to care for patients requiring other types of non-COVID related healthcare.

“More than 40 percent of the hospitals’ current census is occupied by COVID-19 positive or suspected patients. What that means is that we are now at the point of grave concern,” Vela said. “Our entire teams are working around the clock to identify additional locations for patient care and we are working closely with the TRAC-V to bring in additional staff to help our hospitals manage this surge.”

Dr. Christopher Romero is physician adviser for Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen. He said that the hospitals continue to see numerous patients admitted on a daily basis with severe disease. 

“Many of these patients are now younger than before, and often without many of the severe underlying health problems that we previously associated with severe disease. We have unfortunately seen many people pass away from COVID-19, even young individuals,” Romero said. “These days I cannot in good conscience say that young people or healthy individuals don’t have to worry about this disease.”  

Leslie Bingham is CEO for Valley Baptist-Brownsville. She said physicians and hospital staff are working tirelessly to continue to care for their community. However, she said, they require assistance to alleviate the exhausting strain of performing at maximum levels day after day.

“Everything is being done to ensure the best possible coordination and care for our patients; however, we need our community to help us help them,” Bingham said. “We need our community to take immediate action to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the continued surge in our hospitals.”

Leslie Bingham

Bingham said that while early efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19 – such as shelter in place orders and minimizing travel – were successful, COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed as local residents became lax in following protective measures against the virus.

“When people wear a face mask in public, maintain a physical distance of at least six feet from others, and practice frequent hand hygiene, it reduces the spread of the virus,” Bingham said. “We’re imploring the people of the Rio Grande Valley – our friends, our neighbors, our families – to do these three simple things to help us save lives.”

Dr. Jose Ayala is chief medical officer for Valley Baptist-Brownsville. He urged the community to continue to practice the protective measures that have been successful, especially the use of face coverings in public as a means to protect not only ourselves, but those who may be more vulnerable to the virus.

“The importance of masks is to prevent the spread of the virus by those people who may not know they are infected and contagious yet,” Ayala said. “People can spread the virus before they develop symptoms, which has been demonstrated in research from around the world. Wearing a mask is only one of our weapons to fight COVID-19, but it’s an important one. When out and about we don’t know who may have cancer, diabetes, lung problems, or other health issues that make them more susceptible to COVID19. Wearing a mask helps protect others in our community and can slow the spread of this deadly virus.” 

Vela said he is confident in local residents will listen to local health officials in order to help local healthcare providers continue to give appropriate care to the community.

“What we need most right now is for our community to please hear us. This pandemic is real. It is in our community and it’s on the rise. If this surge continues as it has over the past week, we will have a very real need to open some type of alternative care site  in our community so that additional care can be provided for those that will inevitably require hospitalization,” Vela said. “Especially during this holiday weekend, we beg our community to please be safe, please avoid large gatherings, please wear your mask and please continuously wash your hands. One of the most patriotic things that we can do for each other this year to make a few small sacrifices for the good of our community.” 

Vela’s plea to the community came as Cameron County received confirmation of three additional COVID-19 related deaths. The individuals were an 84-year old female and 86-year old male residents of The Rio at Fox Hollow. In addition, there was a 66-year old male from Brownsville and passed away at Valley Baptist Medical Center- Brownsville. This raises the number of COVID-19 related deaths in Cameron County to 63. Cameron County has also received confirmation of an additional 81 case reports of COVID-19. 

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