SAN ANTONIO – The Rio Grande Valley continues to be hit hard with COVID-19 as hospitals run at capacity, so the San Antonio VA hospital is stepping in to help.
“While we were already getting other patients from other hospitals in the region, we hadn’t heard from (the Valley),” said Christopher Sandles, medical center director and CEO of South Texas Veterans Health Care System.
Sandles was concerned after reading about what was happening in Starr County.
Starr County Memorial Hospital was full and formed an ethics committee that would make difficult decisions based on a patient's chances of survival.
“I reached out to my counterpart at the VA Health Care System down in the Valley, and so together we coordinated,” Sandles said.
In a matter of 12 to 36 hours, patients were already en route to the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital in San Antonio.
“We get on a daily call and we coordinate, reach out to all of the facilities in need, and depending on the mode of transportation that’s needed, we either medevac out of that region or we bring them here via ambulance,” said Valerie Rodriguez-Yu, associate director of patient care services for the South Texas Veterans Health Care System.
Rodriguez-Yu said medical experts determine whether the patient is stable enough to transfer.
“We’ve taken patients who are ICU level of care, and if they’re stable enough to just at least tolerate the transfer, we bring them,” Rodriguez-Yu said.
The San Antonio hospital has received five COVID-19 patients from Starr County who are nonveterans.
“Maybe a month and a half ago, the governor of Texas did request VA facilities to start accepting nonveterans or civilians,” Sandles said.
The hospital has received a total of 14 nonveterans and six veterans from the border.
“Our ability to take these additional patients is the participation by not only our own hardworking staff but staff from all over the country, areas that weren’t as hard hit by COVID who have a volunteered to come here and help us augment our staff,” said Dr. Cal Leuschen, deputy chief medical officer of the South Texas Veterans Health Care System.
Sandles said they also moved patients to other VA facilities so that they can support the border communities.
“I don’t think in today’s America, we need to be individuals concerned that where they live can be a determinant of whether or not they live or die. In the case of a public pandemic, we have a means to communicate. We have means to transport these individuals. There’s absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be using those resources,” Sandles said.