Cameron County hospitals sending patients to Casa de Amistad

HARLINGEN — Hospitals Tuesday afternoon were preparing to begin transferring recovered COVID-19 patients to Casa de Amistad, which Texas officials have transformed into one of the state’s largest recovery centers as part of a plan to free beds in hospitals filled to capacity.

“They’re just selecting the patients,” Josh Ramirez, the city’s public health director, said at about 4 p.m. after an hour-long conference call with hospital officials.

Meanwhile on Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott arrived for a coronavirus briefing at the McAllen Convention Center, which has also been converted into a COVID-19 recovery center.

Last week, Abbott announced plans to launch the projects to turn the two convention centers into the state’s largest COVID-19 recovery centers in the region lacking medical resources to care for a population in which many residents suffer medical complications including obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

“We do have a greater need than anticipated with COVID patients,” Ramirez said, noting patients suffering medical complications often require hospitalization. “I don’t think we have the medical care. We don’t have enough facilities with the huge population.”

Abbott’s plans aim at freeing beds in hospitals which have reached capacity as a result of a surge of COVID-19 patients amid a dramatic rise in new cases.

“Our numbers are very high, our emergency rooms are inundated — we’re very over-capacity,” Tom Hushen, Cameron County’s emergency management coordinator, said. “A lot of people have conditions that require medical (treatment). There’s no other room in hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley.”

As of Tuesday, recovering COVID-19 patients are being transferred out of area hospitals to Casa de Amistad which has been set up as a temporary recovery facility. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

Converting Casa de Amistad

Last week, Mayor Chris Boswell said the city offered Casa de Amistad to serve as a COVID-19 recovery center.

“It’s very impressive what they’ve done to utilize it as a patient care facility,” Boswell said. “They’ve set up partitions for 96 beds with different levels of care. They have oxygen for every one of the partitioned bays.”

For the project, the state contracted SLS, a Galveston-based company that converted New York City’s Billie Jean King Tennis Center and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal into COVID-19 medical centers.

“It looks basically like a mini-hospital,” Hushen said, referring to the project at Casa de Amistad. “The company did a great job in such a short amount of time. We thank the state of Texas for helping us get this done.”

From across the country, state officials have sent medical teams including doctors specializing in internal medicine, respiratory therapists and heart specialists, Ramirez said.

“They have a big variety of medical specialists to deal with COVID patients and the needs they may have,” he said.

McAllen Convention Center

In McAllen, the state project has converted the 174,000-square-foot convention center into the state’s largest COVID-19 recovery center to include as many as 250 beds.

Last week, Abbott outlined plans to convert part of the convention center into a COVID-19 recovery center to include 50 acute-care beds with the option of adding 200 acute or convalescent beds, “depending on the need,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez said last week.

Several oxygen tanks of various sizes were ready to be moved inside for use yesterday outside the Casa de Amistad. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

Hospital patient transfers

In Cameron County, hospitals including Valley Baptist Medical Center, Harlingen Medical Center and Brownsville’s Valley Regional Medical Center will transfer patients to the recovery center at Casa de Amistad, Ramirez said.

Meanwhile, Hidalgo County hospitals will transfer their patients to the recovery center at the McAllen Convention Center, he said.