A caravan of local, state, and federal law enforcement flashed red and blue lights and sounded emergency sirens in a Border Patrol-led ceremony in honor of doctors, nurses, and hospital staff gathered in front of Valley Regional Medical Center on Wednesday morning.
High in the blue sky, a Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Ops helicopter, (nicknamed “the bird”) hovered above the parking lot and a large, U.S. flag waved in the wind. Officers inside their vehicles waved and made hearts with their hands.
“It’s a huge honor. We were so excited to have them come by and it was a great week to kick off hospital week and nurses’ week,” said Mariana Tumlinson, director of Community and Public Relations at VRMC, as she waited with staff.
The event, named Salutes and Sirens for Healthcare Heroes, honored front-line medical workers in Brownsville and Harlingen with a “roll-by” for their commitment to the health and safety of the community throughout the pandemic.
Officials saluted staff at VRMC, Harlingen Medical Center, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Regional Academic Health Center, Harlingen VA Outpatient Clinic, Valley Baptist Medical Center – Harlingen, VBMC – Brownsville, and the UTRGV testing facility in Brownsville.
Participating agencies and officials included the CBP Office of Field Operations Port of Brownsville, CBP Air and Marine Operations, Border Patrol, Texas Department of Public Safety, Cameron County Sheriff’s Department, Brownsville Police Department, Brownsville Fire Department, Harlingen Police Department, Harlingen Fire Department, Los Indios Police Department, UTRGV Police, and District Attorney Luis V. Saenz.
Doctors and nurses place their own lives at risk to treat patients potentially infected with COVID-19. VRMC staffs around 200 doctors and 300 nurses, according to Chief Nursing Officer Edward Stiner. He said guidelines and requirements changing daily were an initial challenge. “We worked through them. That’s what nurses do. I think right now we’re in a good position.”
At VRMC, nearly 90 staff cheered and waved at the line of cars saluting their service. “It’s been a trying time for the community and the staff members here. We’ve been getting through this with the support of the community, whether it’s donations or words of support. It really means a lot to the staff and it has really done a lot to uplift their spirits,” said VRMC’s Director of Strategy Brandon Mohler.
The boost in morale doesn’t mean the work is over. Medical staff operating remotely hopes to return as local infection rates level out, but COVID-19 is still present in the community, and hospitals are taking precautions. Tumlinson urged community members to continue seeking treatment at the hospital if necessary. “The hospitals have protocols in place to keep everybody safe. Please do not forego medical care,” she said.
Officials rolled past the emergency room at VBMC as the caravan returned to Brownsville. Nearly 100 employees dressed in blue and green scrubs waited to watch the procession. Chief Executive Officer Leslie Bingham described the events of the pandemic as “surreal” and expressed gratitude for community-led aid efforts.
“The community has learned so much about what health care workers do through this whole crisis. What I would want to tell them is how grateful all of the health care workers are for the respect, attention, support, prayers, and everything they’ve been getting from the community along the way.”