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Emergency orders financially impacting medical facilities

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RIO GRANDE CITY – Hospitals are in the business of treating the sick. When resources shifted to the coronavirus, Starr County Memorial Hospital started noticing missing clientele.

“We did not want to expose our personnel to the potential risk of infection from COVID-19 patients as well as we needed to protect the PPE,” said Dr. Jose Vazquez, Starr County health authority.

This was part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders issued March 22. It kept hospitals from performing surgeries and procedures not medically necessary to correct a serious condition or save a life.

Dr. Vazquez who sits as president on the hospital board says they began seeing less patients and less money.

“Definitely elective procedures are a significant part of the money that comes in for medical procedures or for medical services that we provide here in our community,” said Dr. Vazquez.

It’s hard to know right now how much it will affect them. The hospital run with revenue that comes in two months back. Dr. Vazquez says they expect to know the full impact around June, but they already started bracing for it.

“We have had to make some adjustments in the schedules. Some hours have been cut short. However, the employee has kept his job,” said Dr. Vazquez.

State and federal government are making funding available for hospitals. In Starr County – where the awareness has been high and the cases low – it can hurt its chances at receiving funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“In our case, we didn't have any COVID-19 patients admitted into our hospital, so we will not be eligible for those specific funds. But, we are eligible for other resources that the federal and state government have put in place, and we have already received some of those funds,” Dr. Vazquez explained.

The hospital district operates with funding from taxpayers. Dr. Vazquez says in the six years he’s served on the board, there hasn’t been a need for an increase. Not now.

“If this was to prolong significantly throughout the time and more and more patients were getting affected, and a second wave was to affect our communities, then we will have to take the decisions needed at that point,” said Dr. Vazquez.

The doctor believes there’s reason to be optimistic.

A week ago, Gov. Abbott lifted the suspension of elective procedures. This week, Starr County Memorial Hospital will start offering them again. Officials hope it will help the bottom line, but they are thinking of how they can keep patients safe too.

Dr. Vazquez said they’re considering running a COVID-19 test on the patients before they’re admitted into the hospital.

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