HARLINGEN — A COVID-19 recovery center here opened Thursday, with county officials working with local hospitals to begin the transfer of patients to the new facility.
The center’s opening paves the way to begin treating non-critical patients, freeing up beds at Cameron County’s four major hospitals. Delays in signing a contract with involved parties was the last barrier in getting patients moved into the center, which Cameron County public information officer Melissa Elizardi confirmed had been completed on Thursday.
The 13,000-square foot recovery center has been constructed inside the Casa de Amistad convention hall in Harlingen and according to officials features 25 low-acuity care beds and 25 medium-acuity care beds, with the option to expand capacity to up to 100 beds if needed.
The opening of the recovery center at Casa de Amistad will mean roughly 100 beds, each in their own space, with oxygen capacity for local patients. It is operated by SLS, a Galveston-based company that converted spaces in New York City into COVID-19 field hospitals.
The release stated that the company will provide up to 125 staff members for three eight-hour daily shifts, including specialized doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists. “While the state is covering the cost for the operation of the temporary hospital, any costs incurred by the City will be eligible for CARES Act reimbursement,” officials wrote.
Inside, the recovery center is divided into two parts for staff and patients. The entrance to the facility leads to the first section — a work station and space for medical staff filled with computers and supplies, cordoned off from the area where infected individuals are to be housed.
Workers and staff who enter the facility are screened through temperature checks and questionnaires. Patients are housed through an adjoining door which opens to a spanning room filled with dividers so that each patient will have their own room.
The design stands in contrast to images of temporary hospitals set up as tent structures in hotspots across the country. There is an overall sense that the recovery center is temporary, though the bed capacity and privacy provided to patients in a makeshift space is impressive.
At the front of the patient section there is a nurse’s station stocked with tables, shelves, bulletin boards, and supplies. The space has its own manifold through which supplemental oxygen is distributed from two liquid oxygen tanks, each stored outside.
All patient rooms have access to the oxygen. From the tanks outside the liquid is converted to vapor, then distributed through the lines to each bed. Staff has the ability to control the pressure and flow of the oxygen through a manifest.
Signs reminding staff to keep six feet of distance, instructing readers on how to avoid cross-contamination, and more are scattered across the walls of the patient area.
Patients will be accepted from Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen and Brownsville, Harlingen Medical Center, and Valley Regional Medical Center.
The county on Monday reported an additional 316 positive cases, bringing the total number of cases documented county-wide to 16,906. 7,720 individuals have recovered. The county reported an additional 11 deaths, raising the total to 378.
Cameron County Health Authority Dr. James Castillo said during a press conference on Friday that Valley emergency rooms have been full but are not seeing as many admissions. ICUs are still near capacity and emergency rooms were at 75 percent.
Both Castillo and County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr. warned residents that danger is still present in the community and that normal activities should not resume.