Fort Bliss declares public health emergency

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FORT BLISS, Texas (KTSM) — Fort Bliss’ Commanding General declared a public health emergency for the post Friday afternoon, paving the way for the installation to assist William Beaumont Army Medical Center (WBAMC) to care for DOD and VA beneficiaries.

The declaration falls in line with the State of Texas and the Texas Department of Public Health’s declaration of a public health disaster due to the immediate threat of COVID-19 in the El Paso community. The public health emergency is in effect for 30 days.

El Paso VA Healthcare system and WBAMC began working to transfer dozens of eligible VA beneficiaries from El Paso area hospitals to WBAMC to help ease overcrowding in mid-October.

“Beginning the week of October 12, EPVAHCS began transferring VA beneficiaries from community hospitals to WBAMC,” said Teresa Sosa, RN, Community Care Service Nurse Manager. “Currently, we have completed several dozen patient transfers to help free up beds in local hospitals.”

WBAMC began expanding their capacity the week of October 28 to transfer non-COVID patients to the hospital into a non-COVID expansion area in the neighboring Ambulatory Surgery Unit.

One of the first patients transferred to the expanded areas is Army Vietnam Veteran Robert Montgomery who was rushed to WBAMC for emergency surgery earlier this week.

“They are treating me well and I feel safe because I am not around other COVID patients. The doctors and nurses constantly keep in touch with my wife of 35 years to let her know how I am doing since she isn’t allowed to come visit me,” Montgomery said. “Now El Paso needs to do their part and stop all the gatherings; even when I watched the World Series last week and my Dodgers were playing it was just a party of three at my house; me, my spouse, and my grandson who lives with us!”

The rising COVID cases and hospital rates in El Paso has resulted in the El Paso VA proactively reaching out to the San Antonio VA to coordinate in the event additional inpatient beds are needed. WBAMC is also working with their counterparts at Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Through these collaborative efforts, plans are in place to transport patients to the San Antonio area via military helicopters on Wednesdays and Saturdays so that VA and Department of Defense beneficiaries could be transferred to these alternate locations.

“In this pandemic, we are taking a significant burden from the community by bringing the VA patients in as well as our own beneficiaries. The partnership continues now that the VA is allowing us to use their space as we expand our operations and take care of patients in their space as well as ours,” said Col. Michael S. Oshiki, WBAMC commander.

ARNORTH Deployment

In a separate support mission, the U.S. Army North (ARNORTH) announced a deployment of approximately 20 military medical providers and several administrative personnel to support El Paso area hospitals including University Medical Center, The Hospitals of Providence Transmountain Campus and Las Palmas Del Sol Medical Center.

The providers come from Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Elgin AFB, Keesler AFB, Joint Base Andrews, and elsewhere. The teams should be in place by Sunday.

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