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Long-term acute care facilities taking El Paso’s overflow hospital patients with Covid-19

EL PASO, Texas -- With local hospitals overflowing with Covid-19 patients, other facilities are taking these patients in to ease the strain.

Kindred Hospital CEO America Jones says his long-term acute care facility takes in the sickest of the sick, some even on ventilators, with the hope of weaning them off oxygen and helping them return to a pre-Covid quality of life.  That's a tall order, with the shape many of these patients are in when they're wheeled through the doors.  

"We see young people coming in, their lungs look like they are COPD patients, even though they're not.  The attack on the lungs is pretty intense on patients who are struggling with it, to recover.  The patients are tired, exhausted from being on these high oxygen levels," says Jones.

Kindred Hospital has an 8-bed ICU, and takes patients from the acute care hospitals on high flow oxygen machines, on ventilators, and mechanical ventilations.  

"Since we are smaller, we are able to do more one-on-one with our patients and help wean them off those ventilators, get them off those high-flow units, help them start eating, walking, talking," says Jones. The hospital also has a strong rehab component with physical therapy, occupational and speech therapy.

At age 47, Sara Corona currently finds herself a patient at Kindred. She's three weeks into her battle with Covid, and was hospitalized just after losing her mom to Covid as well. She says the emotional toll has been difficult.

"It was very heavy on me. The fever, the lack of oxygen is so difficult...You really lose sight of who you are and you don't know how you're feeling, how you're getting through it.  It's a roller coaster ride," says Corona.  She says her immune system was down, since she had just finished chemo treatments for metastasized cancer. Thoughts of her husband, at home battling the same virus, and her son, who turned 18 while she was hospitalized, keep her going. And she's making progress, recently walking 150 feet, and is quite proud of herself.

"It's wonderful, because before, I couldn't walk," Corona says. She also says she's depending on less oxygen to breathe every day.

Kindred has 72 beds, and a team of ICU nurses, respiratory therapists and pharmacists.  Kindred normally cares for medically complex patients who no longer can stay in a normal hospital, but still need 24-hour medical care.  Now, most of the patients are there with coronavirus.

Dr. Emilio Gonzalez-Ayala is a pulmonologist and medical director at Kindred.  He says there are several lucky patients who have been able to come off the ventilator. But the recovery process in general for coronavirus patients is very slow.

"I haven't seen anybody be here less than 7 to 10 days, but that's the exception, not the rule," Gonzalez-Ayala says. "It's more like three, four weeks sometimes."

Corona is looking forward to the day she can return home to her loved ones. With the progress she's making in therapy every day, she's hoping it will be soon.

Hillary Floren

Hillary Floren co-anchors ABC-7’s Good Morning El Paso.

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