Corpus Christi -- The Nueces County Health District approved a $3 million dollar plan to convert an unused Intensive Care Unit at the Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital site into a dedicated COVID-19 treatment facility.
The deal, which heavily favored Christus Spohn hospital and was heavily endorsed by Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales did come with steep stipulations.
Hospitals from around the area would have to agree to send a specific number of patients to the newly repurposed facility. There would also be an agreement that local hospitals would be allowed to staff the facility with their own employees and doctors. Perhaps the biggest stipulation of all is to secure a $3 million dollar reimbursement from the state—which officials say already has enough bed capacity to meet any potential need.
Judge Canales would have to submit a STARR request to the state asking for the money to cover the deal and that seems a bit ambitious by any stretch of the imagination partly because we would still be using taxpayer money for the project.
As the discussion was being undertaken here in Corpus Christi, Governor Greg Abbott was in Austin laying out his plan to re-open the state’s economy. In that same press conference, Gov. Abbott responded to the need for additional hospital beds.
“It turned out in hindsight that we have a great number of hospital beds that are vacant, that appear that will not be needed to treat COVID-19 patients,” Gov. Greg Abbott said at a Friday afternoon press conference when he also announced plans to gradually reopen the state economy. “Because of the hospital bed vacancy and because of a new supply chain for PPE, we feel that we can begin allowing some more procedures.”
To assess the situation here locally, we spoke with healthcare managers at 3 area hospitals (Bay Area, Christus Spohn Shoreline and Doctors Regional) who all said that there is ample local bed space at the current time and that hospital capacity is far below averages.
Also, on Friday, a meeting was held by Christus Spohn managers with their staff to address concerns about staffing, patient care and a few procedural changes. That meeting also included a three-phase plan to help bring hospitals and staff back up to normal operating pace.
While it would seem the Memorial Hospital site would be practical choice for a COVID-19 unit, many are arguing the wastefulness of the spending. Gov. Abbott has already issued an executive order which allows state resources to create makeshift hospitals at locations around the state, should the need ever arise.
Places like convention centers, exhibit halls and even hotels have all been considered in locations around the state, leaving residents to question why such a move would be necessary in the first place?
Judge Canales has repeatedly mentioned throughout the crisis that she has been eye-balling the use of the Memorial facility for a specialized unit. But Canales, who will likely be going a major public relations and local media blitz next week is ready to defend her point of view for the project.
“We are talking about a lot of wasteful spending here,” said Jose Madrigal of Corpus Christi. “That building has a lot of history here in this town and so does she. I think she does not want to see it go away.”
Madrigal is right, the building and Judge Canales are both deeply rooted here locally and the building itself is slated for demolition in 2023.
“I just think that there could be a better use for the money,” he says. “Let’s invest it in something that we can see the use in and stop playing politics with this building and just let it go. We don’t need it or this unit.”
Madrigal feels that the money, though earmarked for county reimbursement would be better used to for other things like putting our broken economy back together.
Madrigal and others in the county might be justified in their point of view.
As of Friday, the State of Texas reported some 396 available hospital beds in the region that could be utilized for COVID-19 treatment. They also reported a capacity of 28 ICU beds being available for use.
Also as of Friday Nueces County reported a total of 2 patients currently in the hospital and 1 is in ICU.
You can easily see how this move would be a hard sell on a good day, in a good economy. But now with a seriously strapped local economy and a difficult looming budget cycle at every level of government coming in the near future, this move to help Christus Spohn “weather the storm,” as was mentioned in meeting documents, will be an even tougher sell.