Preparations underway to convert McAllen Convention Center into health care facility

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A hospital bed was seen rolled across the floor of the Exhibit Hall at the McAllen Convention Center Wednesday afternoon. It was one day after Governor Greg Abbott announced the creation of a temporary health care facility to help alleviate stress placed on Valley healthcare systems by COVID-19.

The Texas Division of Emergency Management is coordinating efforts to equip the convention center with staff, oxygen, and 50 hospital beds. Though, there will be an opportunity to expand to 250 beds. It's welcome news for hospitals like DHR Health where medical staff has seen a steady demand for resources.

"The hospitalization rate has definitely gone up. I can tell you that the ICU capacity also has been diminished, because we probably have a 75-percent increase at our ICU care," Dr. Robert Martinez, DHR Health Chief Medical Officer, said.

For about a month, local and state leaders were scouting sites for this kind of construction. Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said the convention center was chosen largely for its convenience. "It's a huge facility. It has bathrooms. It's close to restaurants. It's close to the expressway. It's close to hospitals."

On Tuesday, Chief Nim Kidd, Texas Division of Emergency Management, said they can expand from 50 to 250 beds, but that will be determined as a team with local hospitals. "Our goal is to work with the hospital CEOs around here to determine what the greatest need is," Kidd said.

Beds can be used for recovering patients or those with special care. How those will divide up depends on what's happening at Valley COVID wards.

"We all agree that we need convalescent beds, and that's really for the patient who no longer qualifies for in-patient status," DHR Health President Susan Turley said. Though, she said there are concerns looking ahead. "If we have another surge that some are predicting is going to happen after Hurricane Hanna, we could be out of acute care beds."

The Texas Division of Emergency Management expects the beds at the convention center be ready by the end of the week.

"Even though it doesn't look like it, but I think we're starting to turn a corner," Judge Cortez said.


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