DHR Health generates national news about its courageous medical professionals risking their health in South Texas’ battle against COVID-19 - Titans of the Texas Legislature (2022)

DHR Health generates national news about its courageous medical professionals risking their health in South Texas’ battle against COVID-19 - Titans of the Texas Legislature (1)

Featured: In this aerial image taken from the east are the sprawling hospitals, medical offices, and high-tech, advanced resources of DHR Health, located on a 130-acre site, with most of the facilities in southwest Edinburg but with a growing South Campus immediately across Owassa Road in northwest McAllen.

Photograph Courtesy DHR HEALTH



The dedication and courage of DHR Health professionals in risking their own health to take care of seriously and gravely-ill COVID-19 patients in deep South Texas made local, state, and national news during July 2020, a period where thousands of area residents tested positive for the contagious – and too often – deadly illness.

The coverage by theTexas Tribune,The New York Times,The Los Angeles Times, and other local, state and national news media outlets are the result of an important, long-standing, and effective strategy by DHR Health leaders to help influence policymakers and elected leaders in Texas, Congress, and the White House to respond more quickly to the health care needs of South Texans.

In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, DHR Health’s role as the premier provider of advanced medical treatments and health care in the Rio Grande Valley has been profoundly demonstrated by its thousands of staff members, whose courage, selflessness, and professionalism have made national news.

Samantha De La Garza, in a Monday, August 3, 2020, posting on DHR Health’s Facebook page, gave readers a behind-the-scenes look into what goes on in the Serious Infectious Disease Units (SIDUs), which cares for COVID-19 patients.

“As a nurse who’s worked at both SIDUs at DHR Health, I am so proud of the teamwork there. Although we are all busy with our own patients, we make time to help each other out if needed. And although we are all exhausted, we still take the time to speak to family members regarding their loved one’s health. Our doctors also take the time to speak to them, even while rounding on 100 plus patients,” De la Garza said.

“I walked into the unit where a clerk in the front handed me a bag with two brand new gowns, shoe covers, a surgical cap, a face shield, and a mask, and then she escorted me to a room where I was able to change into surgical scrubs so I didn’t have to use my own scrubs,” she added. “That made me feel very safe. We can’t expect perfection during a crisis, but I can say that everyone is trying their best.”

The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune, in a Thursday, July 2, 2020 story titled‘How many more are coming?’ What it’s like inside hospitals as coronavirus grips Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, featured eye-openingimages of DHR Health physicians, nurses, medical technicians, and others, in non-stop battle against the dangerous virus on behalf of the most vulnerable victims of the threatening disease.

“This week we were honored to hostTexas Tribuneas they visited the Rio Grande Valley to document the fight against COVID-19,” the DHR Health Facebook page announced several days later. “Our Serious Infectious Disease Unit staff has been working around the clock to provide expert care to our COVID-19 patients, offering support and compassion when they need it most.”

The Texas Tribuneis the only member-supported, digital-first, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. The publication reaches tens of thousands throughout Texas.

The identities of DHR Health professionals are barely recognizable in those photographs, as their faces and bodies are shielded as best as possible in protective clothing, helmets, goggles, gloves, or other garments or equipment designed to safeguard them from contamination.

Those images, taken by photojournalist Miguel Gutiérrez, Jr., which accompany the story by Shannon Najmabadi forTheTexas Tribune, show the intensity of the exhaustive, life-and-death struggles being waged around-the-clock by DHR Health’s frontline COVID-19 medical teams.

Gutiérrez, Jr. isThe Texas Tribune’sphotographer and photo editor. He received two master’s degrees from the University of Texas at Austin — in journalism and Latin American studies — and worked as a multimedia producer at KUT. Gutierrez has a bachelor’s degree in Latin American and Latino studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has also worked in film production in Los Angeles.

“When people say it’s a conspiracy, it doesn’t exist or really [exaggerated], my response would be: Come to all the health care workers that go home every night, every little cough they’re sure they have it. We’re in tough times,” Dr. Iván Meléndez, Hidalgo County’s health authority, said at the press conference on Monday, June 29, 2020, reported The Texas Tribune’sNajmabadi.

Established during the 79th Legislative session, Health Authorities (HA) serves as a critical part of the state’s public health system.Health and Safety Codeestablishes and defines a Health Authority in Texas as a physician appointed under the provisions ofChapter 121,to administer state and local laws relating to public health within an appointing body’s jurisdiction. Health Authorities are considered an officer of the state when performing duties to implement and enforce laws that protect the public’s health.


Najmabadi is the women’s health reporter atThe Texas Tribune, where she started as a fellow in 2017. Her stories — on higher education and other topics — have prompted lawmakers to change three state laws. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University.

Meléndez’ advance warning onMonday, June 29, 2020, came hours before he, too, was diagnosed with COVID-19, followed by an alarmingdevelopment over the next eight weeks, when fatalities of COVID-19 victims exploded in the Rio Grande Valley, which is made up of Hidalgo, Cameron, Starr and Willacy counties.

On Wednesday, July 1, 2020, the Rio Grande Valley’s death toll had reached 112. But by Friday, August 21, 2020, the number of confirmed COVID-19 related deaths across the region had astonishingly passed 1,700, according to Texas Public Radio.


“The tsunami is here.”

Less than two weeks after the Monday, June 29, 2020 news conference that included Meléndez, Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortéz issued his own clarion call (a strongly expressed demand or request for action).

“Several months ago (on Thursday, March 21, 2020), I warned of a potential tsunami (pronounced “soo•naa•mee) if we did not take this more seriously,” Cortéz said during a social media briefing involving top county officials on Thursday, July 9, 2020. “The tsunami (an arrival or occurrence of something in overwhelming quantities or amounts) is here.”

DHR Health, which has hospitals and dozens of clinics throughout the area, spent $9 million converting its hospice center into a COVID ward in March when cases first started to spread in Texas. It housed two,
four, six patients for weeks,Najmabadi further noted in her Thursday, July 2, 2020 article.

“But the numbers began multiplying in late May, and with nearly 80 patients in late June, hospital officials decided to turn a nearby rehabilitation facility into a second ward for COVID-19 patients on the mend. With the volume of patients not abating, they’re adding dozens of more beds,” Najmabadi wrote. “The strain is already evident at DHR Health, where eight physicians are quarantined with the virus.”


The New York Times

Then, on Monday, July 20, 2020, millions of people in the United States and throughout the world also saw images and read about DHR Health and its professionals in action – on the front page ofThe New York Times.

“DHR Health recently gave The New York Timesunfettered (unlimited) access to our hospital’s COVID operations. They spent several days on-site, and here is there report,” DHR Health’s Facebook page stated on its Wednesday, July 22, 2020 posting. “It is a real, gripping, and accurate look inside the walls of the hospital. We are proud ofThe New York Times’finding and our frontline COVID heroes represented in (the front page story).”

The newspaper, which is in print and online, has “worldwide influence and readership. … Founded in 1851, the paper has won 130 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper; as well as being ranked top 18th in the world by circulation and 3rd in the U.S,” according to Wikipedia.

“As the coronavirus expands its destructive path across the United States, it is bearing down on some of the places most vulnerable to its devastation — places like the southernmost wedge of Texas, on the border with Mexico, which has seen a punishing surge in infections,” Caitlin Dickerson set the stage for readers in her article, titledVulnerable Border Community Battles Virus on ‘A Straight Up Trajectory’.

Dickerson is a Peabody Award-winning reporter based in New York who covers immigration. She has broken stories on asylum, detention, and deportation policy, as well as the treatment of immigrant children in government custody. @itscaitlinhd

Introducing most of its vast audience to deep South Texas,TheNew York Timesprovided key background as to the monumental challenges facing the Valley, and how DHR Health and its people are facing the pandemic head-on.

In the Rio Grande Valley, more than a third of families live in poverty. Up to half of the residents have no health insurance, including at least100,000 undocumented people, who often rely on under-resourced community clinics or emergency rooms for care,” Dickerson stated. “The now-chaotic special infectious disease unit (at DHR Health)…has been clobbered with new admissions in recent weeks. Clinicians sweat under layers of protective gear and yell over constantly blaring alarms.”

In the accompanying photo essay byTheNew York Times’ Addario, the captions (also known as cutlines, which are a few lines of text used to explain and elaborate on the published photograph) dramatically tell a story of death, survival, healing, and even birth at DHR Health during this unprecedented public health crisis for the nation.

Those captions include the following passages:

• “We knew that this was a time bomb because the percentage of obesity, hypertension, diabetes is so high,” said Dr. Adolfo Kaplan, a critical care physician who works at DHR Health in Edinburg, Texas. “We knew that if the hospital was hit, it was going to be a disaster, and that’s what we are living through.”

• “The hospital’s three facilities to treat coronavirus patients have been filled to capacity during July.”

• “A team of nurses surrounding a coronavirus patient moments after her death.”

• “Bernadette Canezo, a registered nurse, introducing a first-time mother, Kimberly Muñoz, to her newborn.”

Addario is an American photojournalist who regularly works for theNew York Times,National Geographic, andTime Magazine. … She recently released aNew York TimesBestselling memoir, “It’s What I Do,” which chronicles her personal and professional life as a photojournalist coming of age in the post-9/11 world.

For medical and health care professionals everywhere putting their health and even lives on the line by honoring their sacred duty,The New York Timesfeature article offered a profound explanation by one of DHR Health’s own.

Doctors and nurses are pulling extra shifts to keep up with the relentless admissions. For many, the devastation feels personal,The New York Times’Dickerson found.

“It’s not even about the money,” said Christian Gonzalez, a 25-year-old nurse, born in the Valley, who has been working 12- to 14-hour shifts six days a week since coronavirus cases spiked in July. “The people I grew up with — this is their mom, this is their dad who is sick.”

The Los Angeles Times

From coast to coast, DHR Health during July 2020 continued to make national news, including being portrayed in five images, along with quotes from hospital system leaders, in a major story published on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, inThe Los Angeles Times, titledCoronavirus has torn Texas’ tight-knit Rio Grande Valley apart: ‘We’re in hell right now’.

The Los Angeles Timesarticle was written by Molly Hennessy-Fiske, who has been a staff writer since 2006 in Washington, Los Angeles, Texas, and overseas. A graduate of Harvard College, she spent a year as Middle East bureau chief before returning as Houston bureau chief.

The images accompanying the article were taken by Carolyn Cole, who is a staff photographer forThe Los Angeles Times. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in 2004 for her coverage of the siege of Monrovia in 2003, the capital of Liberia.

Some of the many key passages in Molly Hennessy-Fiske’s reporting included:

Most of the hospitalizations and deaths this month have been in the heart of the valley in Hidalgo County, where all 2,000 hospital beds are full, said Dr. Ivan Melendez, the county health director, who returned to work last week after recovering from the virus.

In the county seat of Edinburg, DHR Health — a 530-bed, physician-owned facility — added 210 beds for COVID-19 patients last week and was still expanding, said Dr. Robert Martinez, who was leading the hospital’s response.

It’s hard to find colleagues whose family hasn’t been touched by death,” said Dr. Carlos Cardenas, the hospital’s chief executive. “We look at life down here in terms of holidays, because families get together Mother’s Day, Father’s Day,Cinco de Mayo. Anytime there is an excuse for ourgente(people) to have a party, apachanga,we worry.”

The coronavirus has upendedfronterizo, or borderland, traditions from birth to death inthe valley, one of the country’s poorest and hardest-hit hot spots. The virus has cut through generations of families. It has taken pastors and farmworkers. Deaths here are multiplying, crematoriums are backed up for weeks, and at one cemetery, so many graves were dug that the backhoe broke down and men had to take to shovels.

Rio Grande Valley News Media

Back home, the roles taken by DHR Health’s medical and health professionals have received equally vital news coverage in the Rio Grande Valley, which has an estimated 1.4 million residents.

For the month of July 2020, the local print and broadcast stories in which DHR Health was moderately, significantly or almost exclusively featured include, by date, title, and news source:

07/01/20 • ‘Somethings needs to be done’ – Abbott halts elective surgeries amid concerned health officials’ call for autonomy •The Monitor
07/01/20 • Valley health officials stress need of staff, space, responsibility among public •KRGV-TV
07/02/20 • Sohail Roa, President and CEO, DHR Health Institute for Research and Development: What is convalescent plasma therapy for COVID-19 •The Monitor
07/02/20 • Help arrives, more needed – Nurses bussed in, but officials express urgency for more •
The Monitor
07/05/20 • Plasma donations, steroids combat virus locally •The Monitor
07/06/20 * Hidalgo Co. reports more than 500 new cases, 1 death – Medical personnel deployed to Valley •The Monitor
07/06/20 • COVID–19 – Gov. Abbott sends 628 healthcare professionals to the Valley •Rio Grande Guardian
07/09/20 • Rama Behara, DO, MS, DHR Health Gastroenterology: Coronavirus and GI symptoms – What to know •The Monitor
07/15/20 • Valley hospital add wards to handle coronavirus patients •KRGV TV
07/16/20 • Dr. Carlos Ballesteros, OBGYN, DHR Health Women’s Hospital – What to know about pregnancy and COVID-19 •The Monitor
07/19/20 • Virus veterans share experience of NY surge •The Monitor
07/23/20 • Marcel B. Twahirwa, MD, Medical Director, DHR Health Diabetes and Endocrinology Institute – Diabetes and COVID-19 •The Monitor
07/26/20 • ‘No one’s seeing us drown in patients’ – Crisis nurses, first deployed to NY, now on front lines here •The Monitor
07/29/20 • Fighting for air – Lack of oxygen concentrators delays discharge of virus patients •
The Monitor
07/30/20 • Patricia M. Fernandez, MD, MBA, Neurointerventional Radiologist, DHR Health Neuroscience Institute – What do I need to know about strokes and COVID-19? •The Monitor

Anchored in southwest Edinburg, with a growing presence in neighboring McAllen, DHR Health offers some of the most comprehensive medical care on the U.S. southern border, with more than 1,400 nurses and 600+ physicians providing care in 70+ specialties and sub-specialties.

DHR Health is the flagship teaching hospital for the UTRGV School of Medicine and encompasses a general acute hospital with the only dedicated women’s hospital South of San Antonio, a rehabilitation hospital, a behavioral hospital, more than 70 clinics Valley-wide, advanced cancer services, the only transplant program in the Rio Grande Valley – and the only functioning 24/7 Level 1 Trauma Center south of San Antonio.

DHR Health is headquartered on a 130-acre site, with most of the facilities in southwest Edinburg but with a growing South Campus immediately across Owassa Road in northwest McAllen.


For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).


Who are at higher risk of developing serious illness from COVID-19? ›

Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

Can COVID-19 be transmitted through food? ›

There is currently no evidence that people can catch COVID-19 from food. The virus that causes COVID-19 can be killed at temperatures similar to that of other known viruses and bacteria found in food.

When was COVID-19 first reported? ›

On this website you can find information and guidance from WHO regarding the current outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that was first reported from Wuhan, China, on 31 December 2019.

Do smokers suffer from worse COVID-19 symptoms? ›

Early research indicates that, compared to non-smokers, having a history of smoking may substantially increase the chance of adverse health outcomes for COVID-19 patients, including being admitted to intensive care, requiring mechanical ventilation and suffering severe health consequences.

Are smokers more likely to develop severe disease with COVID-19? ›

Tobacco smoking is a known risk factor for many respiratory infections and increases the severity of respiratory diseases. A review of studies by public health experts convened by WHO on 29 April 2020 found that smokers are more likely to develop severe disease with COVID-19, compared to non-smokers.

How could smoking affect COVID-19? ›

COVID-19 is an infectious disease that primarily attacks the lungs. Smoking impairs lung function making it harder for the body to fight off coronaviruses and other diseases.

Can the coronavirus disease be transmitted through the consumption of cooked foods, including animal products? ›

There is currently no evidence that people can catch COVID-19 from food. The virus that causes COVID-19 can be killed at temperatures similar to that of other known viruses and bacteria found in food.

Can the coronavirus disease be transmitted through water? ›

Drinking water is not transmitting COVID-19. And, if you swim in a swimming pool or in a pond, you cannot get COVID-19 through water. But what can happen, if you go to a swimming pool, which is crowded and if you are close to other the people and if someone is infected, then you can be of course affected.

Where was COVID-19 first discovered? ›

The first known infections from SARS-CoV-2 were discovered in Wuhan, China. The original source of viral transmission to humans remains unclear, as does whether the virus became pathogenic before or after the spillover event.

Who issued the official name of COVID-19? ›

The official names COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 were issued by the WHO on 11 February 2020.

How to subscribe to WHO Health Alert via WhatsApp? ›

The service can be accessed by a link that opens a conversation on WhatsApp. Users can simply type “hi”, "hola", "नमस्ते", "oi", “salut”, "ciao" or "مرحبا" to activate the conversation, prompting a menu of options that can help answer their questions about COVID-19.

What is social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic? ›

Individuals may apply social distancing methods by staying at home, limiting travel, avoiding crowded areas, using no-contact greetings, and physically distancing themselves from others. Many governments are now mandating or recommending social distancing in regions affected by the outbreak.

How can physical distancing help during COVID-19 pandemic? ›

Physical distancing helps limit the spread of COVID-19 – this means we keep a distance of at least 1m from each other and avoid spending time in crowded places or in groups.

What is the purpose of the WHO's emergency use listing (EUL) procedure during the COVID-19 pandemic? ›

The emergency use listing (EUL) procedure assesses the suitability of novel health products during public health emergencies. The objective is to make medicines, vaccines and diagnostics available as rapidly as possible to address the emergency while adhering to stringent criteria of safety, efficacy and quality.

How long should I exercise for during quarantine? ›

Physical activity and relaxation techniques can be valuable tools to help you remain calm and continue to protect your health during this time. WHO recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, or a combination of both.

What is the difference between people who have asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic COVID-19? ›

Both terms refer to people who do not have symptoms. The difference is that ‘asymptomatic’ refers to people who are infected but never develop any symptoms, while ‘pre-symptomatic’ refers to infected people who have not yet developed symptoms but go on to develop symptoms later.

How does COVID-19 spread? ›

The virus primarily spreads between people through close contact and via aerosols and respiratory droplets that are exhaled when talking, breathing, or otherwise exhaling, as well as those produced from coughs or sneezes.

How can one stay physically active during COVID-19 self-quarantine? ›

Walk. Even in small spaces, walking around or walking on the spot, can help you remain active. If you have a call, stand or walk around your home while you speak, instead of sitting down.

What is the origin of COVID-19? ›

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus. It was first isolated from three people with pneumonia connected to the cluster of acute respiratory illness cases in Wuhan. All structural features of the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus particle occur in related coronaviruses in nature.

What does it mean that coronaviruses are zoonotic? ›

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.

What are the known coronaviruses that can infect people? ›

Human coronaviruses are capable of causing illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS, fatality rate ~34%). SARS-CoV-2 is the seventh known coronavirus to infect people, after 229E, NL63, OC43, HKU1, MERS-CoV, and the original SARS-CoV.

Why is healthy eating important for the immune system, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic? ›

While no foods or dietary supplements can prevent or cure COVID-19 infection, healthy diets are important for supporting immune systems. Good nutrition can also reduce the likelihood of developing other health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.

What surfaces should be cleaned during the COVID-19 pandemic? ›

High-touch surfaces in these non-health care settings should be identified for priority disinfection such as door and window handles, kitchen and food preparation areas, counter tops, bathroom surfaces, toilets and taps, touchscreen personal devices, personal computer keyboards, and work surfaces.

Can COVID-19 be transmitted through food? ›

There is currently no evidence that people can catch COVID-19 from food. The virus that causes COVID-19 can be killed at temperatures similar to that of other known viruses and bacteria found in food.

Does waterpipe use increase the risk of COVID-19 infection? ›

Since waterpipe smoking is typically an activity that takes place within groups in public settings and waterpipe use increases the risk of transmission of diseases, it could also encourage the transmission of COVID-19 in social gatherings.

What is the natural reservoir for SARS-CoV-2? ›

The most likely ecological reservoirs for SARS-CoV-2 are bats, but it is believed that the virus jumped the species barrier to humans from another intermediate animal host. This intermediate animal host could be a domestic food animal, a wild animal, or a domesticated wild animal which has not yet been identified.

Do smokers suffer from worse COVID-19 symptoms? ›

Early research indicates that, compared to non-smokers, having a history of smoking may substantially increase the chance of adverse health outcomes for COVID-19 patients, including being admitted to intensive care, requiring mechanical ventilation and suffering severe health consequences.

What are some social distancing methods to prevent the spread of COVID-19? ›

Methods include quarantines; travel restrictions; and the closing of schools, workplaces, stadiums, theatres, or shopping centres. Individuals may apply social distancing methods by staying at home, limiting travel, avoiding crowded areas, using no-contact greetings, and physically distancing themselves from others.

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