Dr. JJ Gutierrez

Dr. J.J. Gutierrez, here in an April file photo, received approval Tuesday night from the city council to be appointed City of Del Rio public health authority, in addition to his role as Val Verde County public health authority. He gave council members an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in local medical facilities.

Local Health Authority Dr. J.J. Gutierrez on Tuesday spoke about the high number of COVID-19 cases in Del Rio, urging citizens to “take personal responsibility.”

Gutierrez made his statements during an update on COVID-19 activities by city staff in Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Del Rio City Council.

“Of course everybody knows about our numbers. Through the roof, and no end in sight, unfortunately ... it’s incredible, and I know people say the more you swab (test), the more positives you’re going to get, and that is true, a true statement, but I don’t think people should get so worked up about the actual total numbers,” Gutierrez told city council members.

He said the real drama of COVID-19 is playing out inside Val Verde Regional Medical Center and in other medical and care facilities throughout the city.

“It’s what’s going on behind the scenes. I’m here at the hospital, and it’s just crazy. I think it was the mayor who said we could potentially turn into a COVID hospital. That’s becoming more and more of a reality.

“I wouldn’t say 100 percent COVID, obviously, because we do have to serve the needs of the community, but we’re actually having to restrict that quite a bit. I’ll give you an example: They called me this morning to admit a patient with complications of diabetes, and that usually requires a patient to go up to an ICU (intensive care unit) facility.

“They also called me on a patient who had a stomach infection. Nothing too serious, something we see quite often and just a matter of putting the patient in the hospital for a couple of days, for the antibiotics and whatnot, and then we send them home,” Gutierrez said.

But those two patients could not be cared for in the local area, he said.

“I couldn’t admit either of those two patients because we don’t have the resources for that. That diabetic patient that needs to be up in ICU, I don’t have an ICU bed for that patient. We don’t have the ability to take care of any ICU patients in the hospital at all. That patient, unfortunately, with the diabetic complications, had to be sent up to San Antonio, something we would normally take care of here.

“The other patient with the infection, what we call diverticulitis, a simple, plain Jane-type of infection, we cannot take care of that patients because we don’t have the resources in that area, the MedSurg area. We don’t have the resources for that, so those two patients who would ordinarily be kept here, had to be shipped off to San Antonio, and that’s happening more and more,” Gutierrez said.

“It impacts the community, even those that are non-COVID. These patients were not COVID, but we could not accommodate them. Most of our beds in the hospital, most of the patients in the hospital, are COVID. In our MedSurg area, I believe there are less than 10 patients that are non-COVID. So there’s an impact in the medical community, in that we have so much COVID, we can’t take care of our non-COVID patients. That’s the sad reality of what’s going on,” Gutierrez added.

He echoed a statement made earlier in the council meeting by City Emergency Management Coordinator John Sheedy, though, that the number of recovered COVID patients locally is “phenomenal.”

“We knew they were recovered, but we had to get more staff to reach out to (them) to make sure they are recovered and that’s why our numbers are phenomenal in terms of recoveries,” Gutierrez said.

The saddest statistic of the local battle with COVID is the number of deaths, Gutierrez said.

“The sad reality of this is that we’re having a lot of deaths. As of yesterday, I believe there were 41, probably more ... the sad end point of this whole crisis, this pandemic, is the deaths,” he said.

Gutierrez said the local medical community has been getting more help.

“We have swabs. We’re not short of swabs. We’re not short on PPE (personal protective equipment). We’re just hoping people are being mindful and taking personal responsibility for themselves, their families and the community to do the things we know help dampen that curve, but we’re not seeing that as of right now. I want to believe, I want to hope, that we can do something here in the next few weeks or less than that,” Gutierrez said.

“I know people don’t like hearing about social distancing, about wearing a mask, about hand washing. People have kind of become numb to that, but as I’ve said, COVID never gets tired of infecting people. COVID doesn’t care who it infects or kills, and that’s the long and short of what’s going on right now,” he added.

He spoke about dealing with patients who are dying and with their families.

“It’s causing a lot of stress and a lot of strife, for those who are dying, who are fighting for their lives, here in Del Rio and elsewhere ... the sad reality is that there are some who are not going to make it. I’m from Del Rio and been here at the hospital for quite a while. We’ve never, ever, had the need to have an ethics committee meeting. We’ve had the ethics committee, and I’m the chairman of that, but never, ever, have we had to meet to put that into place, to implement that, and we’ve had to do that because the realities are that some people are just not going to make it,” Gutierrez said.

“We know that, and I’ve had to reach out to families to tell them. This is where we’re at. We’re keeping your loved alive, both chemically and mechanically, and even on top of that, they’re just not turning the corner, and we’ve had to have end-of-life discussions with those families, and those are discussions I don’t look forward to, and unfortunately we’re going to be having more of those discussions,” Gutierrez added.

“It’s surreal. It’s like we’re living in a movie here in Del Rio. These things that we witnessed happening in New York, Seattle, New Orleans, Miami, they’re now here in our own backyard,” he added.

He said he is thankful for all the help he and the rest of the medical community is receiving.

Gutierrez said a Navy doctor from Bethesda, Maryland, is now working at the hospital as are other medical personnel from around the country.

“We have all these people coming to our aid because our numbers are through the roof. That’s not the way I’d like to have notoriety for Del Rio. We are so bad with our numbers, and we have so many sick people in this town that the state and the government has taken notice and have deployed people to help us out. It’s just unreal,” he said.

He said although he doesn’t want to be the bearer of bad news, he said he believes it incumbent on him to paint a true picture of the situation for the council.

He applauded the community’s medical workers.

“They come into this hospital knowing there’s COVID everywhere, but our health in jeopardy, but that’s what we signed up for, and we do it day in and day out,” he said.

He also lauded the county and city government for all they have done to mitigate the spread of the disease.

“We’re stepping up to the plate, and I applaud everybody who’s doing that,” Gutierrez said.

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