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Special Report: Inside look of ICU COVID unit

11 months 2 weeks 1 day ago Tuesday, August 31 2021 Aug 31, 2021 August 31, 2021 10:07 AM August 31, 2021 in Investigations

According to state reports, only nine intensive care unit beds are available in the Rio Grande Valley, which has a population of over 1.3 million people.

Channel 5 News was the only local news organization to have access to the intensive care unit at the Harlingen Medical Center and see first-hand how it looks from the inside.

Doctors say COVID-19 hospitalizations can get out of control if everyone doesn't do their part in preventing this deadly disease.

The sounds inside the intensive care unit at the Harlingen Medical Center is a reminder that the pandemic is far from over. Here, the critically ill are treated day and night.

"Uniquely patients that have not been vaccinated,” said Dr. Gustavo Gross, an emergency room doctor. “This is very sad because it is a preventable disease now with the vaccines available."

A vaccine that most of the recently hospitalized opted not to receive.

"Right now with the variants that are coming out, the data is showing that the vaccine is still effective at least preventing patients from becoming very, very sick and/or dying from these other variants," said Harlingen Medical Center Executive Director Matt Wolthoff.

"It’s the younger age group now with the lower percentage of vaccination that we are seeing more of the positive COVID cases," Wolthoff continued.

Wolthoff says although the rooms are not as full as they were a few months ago, the Valley is not far from repeating those scenes of hospitals packed with coronavirus patients—especially with those who refuse to get vaccinated.

"We don’t have the same number of resources that we had several months ago,” Wolthoff said. “And so we have to be even more diligent to make sure that we do not have another surge. Again, that is why vaccination is so important."

The hospital has 112 beds, 16 located in women's services, just 11 more than in August 2020, when 85 of them were occupied by patients with COVID-19 in critical condition. Since then, the phone hasn't stopped ringing.

"But I didn't imagine how bad it was going to be or how much it was going to develop," said Sanjuana Thompson, a nurse at Harlingen Medical Center. "This floor was totally COVID. We had patients who came in with heart attacks or other emergencies and we placed them in another area with the nurses, but this floor was full of patients with COVID."

The emotional price these nurses have had to endure has been greater than even they could imagine.

"Seeing people die more than the usual,” said Brenda Lovera, a nurse at HMC. “We did wear these masks, not only these but we also wore N95s along with this mask, so we were wearing sometimes more than 12 hours."

Before Channel 5 News Reporter Issmar Ventura could enter the intensive care unit area of the medical center, he had to put on special protective equipment.

The picture is nothing different from what was expected: People connected to artificial respirators and medical machinery that detects each patient's heartbeat.

"We're seeing a number of patients that is to me, tragic, because a lot of these patients are coming in very, very ill and requiring critical care," said Dr. Gustavo Gross.

Even so, doctors remain optimistic in the midst of the uncertainty, emphasizing that people should be mindful of our loved ones and others.

The second part of this special report will air Tuesday, Aug. 31, on Channel 5 News at 10.

We share the story of a couple that was hospitalized for weeks at the Harlingen Medical Center. They tell us how hard it was to get through one of the most difficult moments in their lives.

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