A Texas hospital overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases will begin to decide which patients to treat based on how likely they are to survive, and may send the sicker patients “home to die by their loved ones,” county officials said.
Doctors at Starr County Memorial Hospital along the U.S.-Mexico border in Rio Grande City, which has one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in the state, have been told to follow critical care guidelines to determine how to allocate their dwindling medical supplies, The Guardian reported.
Under these guidelines, a committee will review COVID-19 patients' medical files to determine which ones have the best chance of survival, and may send the sicker patients home.
"Unfortunately, Starr County Memorial Hospital has limited resources and our doctors are going to have to decide who receives treatment, and who is sent home to die by their loved ones," Starr County Judge Eloy Vera wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday. "This is what we did not want our community to experience."
Starr County is currently at a “tipping point,” with 1,769 cases as of July 24, and 68 new cases that day alone. The county has a total population of around 64,000, and Starr County Memorial is the area’s only hospital.
“The situation is desperate,” Dr. Jose Vasquez, the county's health authority and part of the health board that governs the hospital, said in a press conference, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. “We cannot continue functioning in the Starr County Memorial Hospital nor in our county in the way that things are going. The numbers are staggering.”
The county was initially doing well at preventing COVID-19 cases, and had no infections in the first weeks of the pandemic. But after Texas reopened businesses after Memorial Day, their cases soared, officials said.
“We are seeing the results of socialization during the 4th of July, vacations, and other social opportunities,” Vera said.
On Friday, the county issued a stay-at-home order for residents, instituted curfews and has made masks mandatory in public spaces.
At least 50 percent of patients coming into the hospital’s emergency room have tested positive for COVID-19, Vasquez said. Their COVID-19 ward initially had eight beds, but once the state reopened they had to expand it to 17. State officials sent medical workers to the hospital which allowed them to expand again to 29 beds.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Sunday that U.S. Navy teams will go down to Starr Memorial and other hospitals in South Texas to provide additional medical help. However, Starr County said that the committee will still be necessary to handle their COVID-19 cases. The hospital has been transferring many of its COVID-19 patients to hospitals in other counties and states, but those are also running out of room.
“For all of those patients that most certainly do not have any hope of improving, they are going to be better taken care of within their own family in the love of their own home rather than thousands of miles away dying alone in a hospital room,” Vasquez said.
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