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‘Close to reaching capacity’: UMC plans for patient overflow as El Paso virus cases surge

UMC ambulance
The ambulance entrance at University Medical Center.

EL PASO, Texas -- University Medical Center, which is handling the majority of Covid-19 hospitalizations in El Paso, has disclosed that it is now making plans to deal with an overflow of patients, mainly those seeking elective surgeries, as virus cases surge.

“I did not know we were that close to reaching capacity," reacted El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego as UMC's top official informed him of the situation on Monday.

The capacity UMC refers to is the pre-designated 15% of beds that hospitals are required to set aside for Covid-19 patients, UMC spokesman Ryan Mielke later clarified.

The hospital has a floor designated to treating Covid-19 patients, but CEO Jacob Citron said UMC is approaching capacity following a surge that occurred after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott allowed some businesses to begin reopening.

And Citron believes El Paso has not yet seen the impact from Mother's Day weekend, which officials predict could result in another surge in about a week because warnings to avoid mass gatherings weren't heeded by some.

"When Gov. Abbott opened up the retail (stores) for up to 25%, we did notice a surge after that starting around May first. We expect that we will see something similar (soon) from Mother's Day," Citron explained.

He also expressed concern as Abbott moves to further reopen the economy, although the governor has pushed back El Paso's timetable by a week from the rest of the state.

"We’re cautious as the state opens up more, there is a risk we’re going to see an increase," Citron indicated.

To make room for anticipated additional virus patients, UMC is working to transfer non-Covid-19 patients to an overflow facility, the Complete Care Community Hospital at 4642 North Mesa in west El Paso.

Cintron said that facility has 18 patient beds and six treatment rooms and has just been approved to take patients. He added that UMC is also coordinating other plans to prepare for further increases in the caseload.

"We have more than enough capacity for more patients, COVID-19 and non-COVID-19," Mielke told ABC-7.

The El Paso health department has indicated there were 78 virus patients hospitalized as of Monday evening. While it's unclear what the capacity is at the other major El Paso hospitals, UMC noted it has taken most of those patients.

Citron did note one area for possible optimism so far during the pandemic.

"What has been helpful, that despite the people testing positive, very few are on ventilators. We have had a low ventilator use and mortality increases once you’re on a ventilator," he said.

Article Topic Follows: Health

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Jim Parker

Jim Parker is the Director of Digital Content for ABC-7.


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