Since the coronavirus made its way to this county, Guadalupe Regional Medical Center has had 14 COVID-19 patients die, with 110 COVID-positive patients admitted at the facility.
Patrick Pinder, Guadalupe County emergency management coordinator, made the revelation Tuesday morning during the county commissioners court meeting and again later in the day in a released statement. He said hospital officials updated him on the number but were unable to verify how many of the patients were county residents.
“Just like with any other case, there is a verification process that (the Texas Department of State Health Services) must perform before a death can be confirmed a COVID-19 related death,” Pinder said in a news release. “It isn’t until that process is completed that we can ‘officially’ account for the death. Guadalupe County has been officially notified by DSHS of three deaths and we were informed on July 7, 2020, by GRMC that there have been 14 deaths related to COVID-19.
“Not all of these patients reside in Guadalupe County.”
During the meeting Pinder reported 13 patients had died, however his afternoon news release with updated county information showed 14.
Pinder has reported three Guadalupe County residents have died as a result of the novel coronavirus. He learned Tuesday morning of the double-digit number of deaths at the hospital.
“I don’t have any information on those deaths,” Pinder said. “I don’t know where they are, those age groups, whether the three we reported are in there. We have no identifying information as far as gender, age, location, if they’re current COVID patients we have identified in our active numbers.”
Because GRMC is a regional hospital, patients have a likely chance of coming from a wide array of place, Pinder said. Patients could live in counties such as Caldwell, Comal, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Hays or Wilson, any of the surrounding counties, he said.
His information comes from the Texas Department of State Health Services, but the state is so backed up tracking Guadalupe County COVID cases that the information is received in an untimely manner, the emergency manager said.
As of Tuesday morning, GRMC had more than 40 patients it was treating for the coronavirus, GRMC CEO Robert Haynes said. The hospital has more COVID patients than other rural facilities in the region. Hospital personnel have requested and received help from the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, which has provided nurses to help staff the facility, he said.
“The hospital you knew three months ago or six months ago is very different today,” Haynes said. “We are focused on COVID and will be focused on COVID.”
GRMC saw a 39% increase in COVID-19 patients from last week based on a rolling, seven-day average of hospitalizations, according to a news release facility personnel provided Tuesday afternoon.
“Last week, GRMC averaged six COVID-19 inpatient admissions per day,” the release stated. “GRMC is capable of caring for patients at our main campus as long as the daily rate of patient admissions does not significantly increase for an extended time.”
To deal with increasing numbers of cases, the hospital has added a 10-patient COVID-19 patient care area it is calling a “surgical ICU,” the release read. The space increases the hospital’s capacity, which means more than just number of beds — it’s the hospital’s capability to care for the patients, it read.
“GRMC is being stretched and challenged during the increase of COVID-19 activity in our community but we will continue to care for as many patients as our resources safely allow,” the statement read.
It stated that hospital staff only will perform urgent/emergency surgical procedures to conserve resources, no more elective procedures. The statement did not reveal how long elective procedures will be suspended.
Along with additional travel nurses, STRAC has also provided GRMC with 10 high-flow oxygen ventilation kits for use with COVID patients, the news release read.
GRMC cares for patients who come from different counties and reports its numbers to the Department of State Health Services, which results in county officials receiving numbers specific to their counties from the state, the hospital’s news release read.
The Department of State Health Services has been confirming COVID cases and relaying information to Pinder’s staff, which, in turn, has been updating county residents. His office, before Tuesday, only provided numbers DSHS personnel released to the county, Pinder said.
The county’s updated numbers showed 44 additional COVID-19 cases confirmed and reported to Pinder’s office since Monday. DSHS reported 424 cases and 581 pending cases for a total of 1,005 cases in Guadalupe County, Pinder said Tuesday in a news release.
The release stated that 337 people have recovered from COVID-19 and currently there are 87 confirmed cases in the county.
But he and County Judge Kyle Kutscher felt an obligation to reveal the hospital’s COVID deaths total when they learned the number before the commissioners court meeting, Pinder said.
He said he has asked state officials for better updated numbers but the Department of State Health Services has so many cases to track, it has fallen behind.
“The information we’re getting today is two weeks old,” Pinder said. “The state is overwhelmed. The data we have right now is all old.
“Guadalupe County has had so many cases, the state has had to hire a private contractor to do our COVID investigations because we have so many in Guadalupe County,” he continued. “They’ve inundated themselves with positive COVID patients so they’ve had to subcontract the contact tracing for Guadalupe County.”
Other similarly-sized and nearby counties have been able to get faster results and updates partially because they have county-run public health departments, Kutscher said.
He said he has heard comments recently about Guadalupe County needing its own such health department. He agrees that county officials now need to discuss development of a local health department here, what it would cost and more, Kutscher said.
“I’m going to talk to the hospital about what a public health department will look like,” he said. “This is all very new and moving fast but at the same point, we don’t have a lot of time being that our budget workshops ... are going to be in August.”