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El Paso hospitals set up tents, try to make extra space as virus spike pushes medical care to the limit

EL PASO, Texas -- The most recent surge in Covid-19 cases is pushing El Paso hospitals to their absolute limits and beyond in some cases.

On Monday, it was top officials from University Medical Center telling city leadership that they've recently converted facility space to allow for more beds, going up from 260 to 342.

UMC said it has been taking many measures to alleviate the stress currently being placed on it's facilities and staff.

As part of their previously prepared surge plans, UMC is currently working closely with the El Paso Children’s Hospital, leasing the ninth floor of that facility and securing more space to bring over non-Covid patients in a transfer process that has already begun.

Additionally, UMC staff have been busy setting up emergency isolation tents in the parking lots where Covid-19 overflow patients are being sent.

“We’re in the process of looking at ways to be able to increase by another 71 beds," said UMC Chief Executive Officer Jacob Cintron. "We are also looking at opening a 50 bed hospital within the Civic Center that would be able to also handle Covid positive patients, including those that would need high-flow oxygen.” 

The El Paso Convention Center is set to have those beds installed in the near future with that transition being led by the Texas Department of Emergency Management.

And that struggle to keep a handle on patient numbers has also gotten to the point where UMC is now also working with the Border Regional Advisory Council to coordinate airlifting non-Covid patients who need critical care to other Texas facilities.

Meanwhile, standalone medical clinics are playing an important role as well by taking on patients with non-Covid medical needs who are no longer able to visit their usual hospitals.

“We are here to test and evaluate and treat people as well as follow-up and if needed we will send you to a hospital but hopefully we can keep you from getting to that point," said Upper Valley Urgent Care Physician Assistant David Tiller.

On Monday. Tiller and colleagues sought to keep a welcoming attitude despite having to see over 200 people before lunch time.

“We are seeing a little over 300 people a day," said Dr. Tiller. "Not only for Covid testing but also for non-hospital Covid treatment.”

Also worth noting is that on Monday, the local hospital district asked El Paso County Commissioners to approve an amendment to the 2021 budget for $10 million dollars for Covid-19 expenditures. 

The move will help with cash flow for things like hospital staff, growth in beds & equipment associated with it, and defibrillators. 

Michael Gordon

Michael Gordon is an ABC-7 reporter who co-anchors Good Morning El Paso weekends.

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