Pandemic Care: Medical facilities stepping up to help hospitals

HARLINGEN — The skyrocketing rate of COVID-19 cases has flooded local hospitals to capacity, putting intense stress on rooms and medical professionals.

The extreme need at short-term acute care facilities like Valley Baptist Medical Center and Harlingen Medical Center has compelled them to accept only the most critical. Once they have recovered from the most severe symptoms, they have to be discharged.

Where do they go? To skilled nursing facilities like Retama Manor Nursing Center or long-term acute care facilities like Solara Hospital, said Christopher Romero, internal medicine specialist at Valley Baptist.

“As the case volume started to increase during this COVID-19 pandemic in our region, we had multiple calls and conversations with local skilled nursing facilities as well as long-term acute care facilities,” Romero said. “Of course there was collaboration with the county health department to see how these different care locations would be able to accept patients and provide safe and effective care in the midst of a pandemic.”

Solara Hospital began accepting patients only in the past couple of weeks, said CEO Albert Sanchez.

“Recently we partnered up with acute care hospitals in helping out with the big need of helping them with the patients that require prolonged hospitalization,” Sanchez said. “After the acute COVID phase we’re taking patients that are post-COVID. They were past the acute stage and still required further treatment because they’re having some complications from COVID.”

More specifically, Solara is accepting patients who are COVID post day 10, said Jun Ellorimo, director of rehabilitation for Solara Hospital in both Harlingen and Brownsville.

“We have a team screening patients carefully,” Ellorimo said. “We are only taking patients that are post covid day 10, no fever 24-72 hours, and are medically improving mainly based on their respiratory status.”

The COVID post day 10 is a new guideline released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about a month ago, Ellorimo said.

Solara Hospital in Harlingen is also caring for recovering COVID-19 patients at their facility in an effort to free up beds at local hospitals. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

“Post-COVID is not an actual medical term but it is what the medical community is using to refer to COVID patients who are passed day 10 on the virus,” he said. “These patients are not completely safe yet but have better chances than patients that are in the ICU and on ventilators or intubated.”

The CDC says post COVID patients are less infectious as compared to those who are in their first week with the virus, Ellorimo said.

“The role we have in rehab with post COVID day 10 patients is to help them regain their functional strength,” Ellorimo said. “This is to give them a better chance of completely recovering from COVID and give them a better chance of being able to go home and be COVID negative by then.”

When health officials asked Retama Manor to help, the facility quickly stepped up and created a separate wing for recovering COVID patients.

“We put up barriers so that people wouldn’t go down that hall,” said Jeff Tait, administrator. “We designed a place in the building to be able to help admit patients that are post COVID.”

He said the center has 22 beds specifically for post COVID patients. Most of them have few or no symptoms.

“They may have some respiratory issues but not very severe,” he said. “Most of the COVID patients require oxygen. If they need hydration we can give them that, and just monitoring their vitals.”