‘We’re getting tired’: Rural Texas communities overwhelmed with hospitalizations amid COVID-19 surge

Some patients waiting to be transferred to other facilities

HONDO, Texas – COVID-19 infections have been on a steady rise all summer, and it’s starting to wear out medical staff at hospitals in rural Texas communities where facilities are short-staffed and not used to the ongoing demand for care.

Dr. Jared Reading, Uvalde County health authority, says anytime the positivity rate is over 10%, the county takes a toll. The rural community has been dealing with a COVID-19 surge for weeks.

“The cases are being transmitted so rapidly that you really can’t count how many are going on,” Reading said. “Our hospitalization rate is as high as it ever has been. About half are COVID-19 and half or non-COVID-19.”

More than a half-dozen patients are waiting to be transferred out of the local hospital to get more urgent care at hospitals in more populated areas. They have been waiting because there are no beds in nearby cities, like San Antonio, Reading said.

“I had a conversation with a nurse today who was in tears because she’s just tired,” Reading said. “It’s really hard to watch people not really breathe, especially when they’re 20, 30 years old and their family’s super anxious and they’re anxious. That’s really hard to watch. And so your health care providers just -- we’re getting tired.”

Billie Bell, the chief nursing officer at Medina Hospital in Hondo, says her staff has been working long hours and multiple shifts.

“If you are already short-staffed and then you have staff that become COVID-19 positive, it takes even more of a burden onto the staff that are here working to care for patients,” Bell said.

Dr. James Castillo, health authority of Cameron County, says he is seeing a positivity rate of about 16% to 20%. Of the 2,800 beds available across the Rio Grande Valley, up to 700 are filled with COVID patients right now.

“Obviously, people are getting fatigued, tired, compassion fatigue especially. It’s especially hard when you see that 90%, 95% of this was preventable,” Castillo said about the high infection rates among the unvaccinated.

The hope is that more people can get vaccinated before the next wave of infections, and hospital staff can get a break before that happens.

About the Authors

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.

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