RGV hospitals adopt new visitor screenings, guidelines

EDINBURG — Rio Grande Valley hospitals are creating new rules for patients and visitors as they brace for what’s being considered an inevitable COVID-19 confirmation. And while they might limit interactions between patients and their loved ones, medical officials say they are necessary in order to stymie the pandemic.

South Texas Health System — which operates five acute hospitals and one behavioral one — was among the first to screen visitors last week, with long lines forming outside McAllen Medical Center as staff asked each visitor about their health and recent travels.

“We, as hospital administrators and the larger team at McAllen Medical Center, apologize for the waiting out front for the change in the visitation policy,” Chief Operating Officer Doug Colburn said Monday. “Sorry for the wait, but we appreciate people being patient as they wait to see their loved one in the hospital.

“We’ve perfected the process over the weekend and it seems to be going much more quickly than it did in the last couple of days.”

By Monday evening, a majority, if not all area hospitals had implemented a similar process.

Visiting hours and overnight stays were also limited, with each institution abiding by their own set of rules.

Rio Grande Regional in McAllen and its sister hospital, Valley Region Medical Center in Brownsville, allowed two visitors per patient from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Others, like McAllen Medical and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (DHR) were shorter, beginning at noon and ending at 6 p.m.

Aside from patients in emergency rooms, only pediatric patients and expecting mothers were allowed overnight guests at a majority of hospitals, though some said they would consider extenuating circumstances.

“We realize that given our community, our culture, our gente , that this could be really difficult for a lot of us, especially when our loved one is sick,” said Dr. Carlos Cardenas, DHR board chairman. “It’s really hard, in our very warm culture, to have to implement these kinds of things, but there’s absolutely no other way to get control of the situation without implementing these measures.”

Local hospitals are simply “speaking the same language” as other health institutions and implementing the same policies that are being enacted across the country, Cardenas said.

“I understand that this is frightening for people, but know that we, as hospitals, are planning for what might happen, and we’ll handle whatever does happen,” Colburn said.

And while the rules between institutions varied as of Monday night, sources said hospitals across the Valley were working to adopt a uniform policy with a possible announcement coming as early as Tuesday.