Army medical staff arrive to relieve UMMC doctors, nurses

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As cars lined up for another day of drive-through COVID-19 testing at United Memorial Medical Center, a group of men and women in Army uniforms discreetly arrived, filing in through a back door.

SEE RELATED STORY: Army to provide medical help for COVID-19 patients

They represent a contingent of Army medical and support staff assigned to Houston and UMMC, as the city continues to be a hot spot for the spread of the virus.

For the chief medical office of the hospital, their arrival meant at least some relief in the unrelenting fight to control the virus that saw a resurgence in Texas after the Memorial Day weekend. It's a temporary addition of nearly 100 nurses and specialists.

"They have nurses, lung doctors, an infectious disease doctor. This is a breath of fresh air for those of us who are working non-stop," said Dr. Joseph Varon.

In two days, he will have worked every day for the past four months, at what had been an 85 bed neighborhood hospital. In that time, the facility has been transformed into a COVID specialty hospital, where the majority of beds and ICU capabilities serve those sick enough to be hospitalized and treated.

"Until Memorial Day, we hadn't lost a single patient," Varon said. "After that, we started seeing people who arrived in critical condition before we could treat them."

Until then, a combination treatment of steroids, vitamin C infusions, and medication to prevent blood clots worked to control the symptoms.

"After people started going out, going to large gatherings, we were doing well. Now, they wait too long before getting to a hospital, and some can't be saved," he said.

UMMC chose to prepare an unused wing of the building for more COVID patients. That's the same wing the Army's medical support staff will be assigned to.

"They can take the patients who are not in ICU. What this is going to do for the next 30 days is to be able to see a large volume of patients and hopefully we have all the personnel we need," said Varon.

New patients, Varon said, will be transferred to the units, rather than wait on space at hospitals around the region that are already full. In some cases, people brought to hospitals by ambulance had to be cared for in emergency rooms until space was available.

"A lot of patients we expect to be transferred here from free standing ERs, and need to be placed in a hospital, and we're going to be theirs," he said.

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