McAllen Medical CEO urges public assistance as coronavirus pushes hospitals to brink

Following the account of one of their registered nurses about what it’s like to work within the intensive care unit for COVID-19 patients, McAllen Medical Center CEO Todd Mann urged the public to follow safety guidelines for the sake of such front-line workers.

On Sunday, The Monitor published a story detailing the stresses and experiences for one RN, Nathaniel Henderson, within the COVID ICU at McAllen Medical, likening the work to bailing water out of the Titanic in grueling 12-hour shifts.

Such stresses may only get worse if health and government officials as well as the public are not able to control the spread of the coronavirus disease.

“The stresses that this is causing on the hospital are real,” Mann said of the influx of hospitalizations caused by the spread of infections, which is pushing hospital staff and resources past their limits.

“He’s outlined it as well as can be because he lives it every day — the stressors of what this virus is causing on our healthcare system across the Valley,” Mann said of Henderson’s account.

Mann said that officials with South Texas Health System, of which McAllen Medical is a part of, knew early on they would need more help.

“We opened up a 36-bed unit on a Friday at around 6 o’clock and by Sunday morning, it was totally full,” Mann said. “So we identified, as a system, that we certainly didn’t have the human resources to continue on that path with the surge being that great, and so we requested from the state and the county 223 nurses for our system.”

Of those 223 nurses, 100 of them were deployed in McAllen to assist their staff in reducing the nurse-to-patient ratio and allow them to take days off, should they need to.

Fifty-four nurses were sent to STHS’ freestanding emergency departments, 55 were sent to STHS Edinburg, and 10 of them were sent to STHS Heart.

Those new nurses will be there for a 14-day shift, but Mann said they’re still working on requesting an extension.

“They came in, an excellent group of folks, to augment our true heroes that have been doing this for our facility and for our community for quite some time,” he said in praise of Henderson, specifically, for his work.

“He described the conditions and the difficulty in the work that he does every day; he still is the first to sign up for a shift — that just shows the character of this man and his dedication to nursing, to this hospital and to his community,” Mann said.

On Friday, STHS also requested additional support staff such as certified nursing assistants and pharmacy technicians, an area of personnel where they’ve been hit significantly.

As far as nursing staff with the additional help, Mann said they’re on an even keel, given they’ve been able to maintain the hospital census over the last six days.

If there is a another spike, though, they might have to continue opening additional COVID units which will necessitate more staff.

“Of course, the Fourth of July weekend did not help,” he said. “I’m hoping that the community reacted accordingly and practiced the appropriate measures, but you could see another spike within the next 14 days based on just people celebrating the Fourth of July weekend.”

There’s also the matter of non-human resources.

Mann said that, collectively, all hospital systems are struggling to obtain oxygen, which is vital to enabling patients to be discharged from the hospital and thus opening up hospital beds.

“This really is a capacity game at this point where we’ve got to get those patients out of the hospital and look at means of moving them into another setting,” he said.

“(It’s) difficult to discharge a patient because there’ve been so many of them discharged, it really depleted the resources that many of the companies that service the area have,” he said “So that’s a challenge.”

He added they’re also looking at ventilators and bypass machines to ensure they have enough in case hospitalizations surge even more or continue to be at the high levels they’ve seen over the last two weeks.

But, arguably, the biggest help hospitals and their staff can receive is from the public. Mann urged them to continue practicing social distancing and continue wearing masks in public.

“We’re on daily calls with the state as well as the county and all of the resources are taxed within the healthcare community, at large,” he said. “There’s nobody that’s not being taxed so please do your part in helping us avoid more spikes in this virus.”

He said that as cliché as it sounded, front-line workers — individuals like Henderson — were true heroes, dedicating themselves to their profession, to the community, and taking care of their patients.

“We can’t say enough about our staff, our physicians, as they carry us through this trying time, and we’re not through it yet,” Mann said. “And so … the message to this community is — this is real, we definitely need your help.”