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DHR Health’s Carlos Cárdenas, MD praises roles of print and broadcast news journalists in 2020: “We couldn’t do public health without you.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic being one of the most important issues that faced the United States in 2020, print and broadcast journalists in deep South Texas played all-important roles in warning and informing Rio Grande Valley residents about that contagious virus, which has reportedly killed more than 3,400 people in the four-county region.

That’s the view of Carlos Cárdenas, MD, Chair, Board of Managers, DHR Health, who offered his praise for the press on Saturday, January 19, 2020, during a media appreciation luncheon hosted by leaders with the hospital system at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.

“We couldn’t do public health without you,” he said. “There wouldn’t be a possibility to even getting the message out about any of what has passed in this community.”

COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Older adults and people who have severe underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness, including death.

The media appreciation luncheon was coordinated by Marcy Martínez, Director of Public Media Relations & Corporate Communications, DHR Health. All precautions recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, such as wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing, were followed at the gathering.

In extending the invitation to journalists for the luncheon, Martínez emailed news media representatives that DHR Health wanted “to show our appreciation for the hard work you’ve done during this pandemic. It surely has been a battle to do the work that you do while having to adjust to our ‘new normal’, but you have gone above and beyond for our community, especially when it comes to health care coverage.”

As a former journalist, she said she knew first-hand the need for the news media to have quick access to professionals for the stories being covered by reporters, producers, editors and news directors.

“I know so many of you personally, throughout the years, of either reporting with you and being in the news media with you,” she said. “Many of you I met recently since I switched over to DHR Health because I believe in this (hospital) system, I believe in the medical experts who are here, some of the top men and women.”

The former and longtime news anchor for KGBT-TV, who for several years has been a public relations/news media strategist, explained a key aspect for the luncheon.

“I wanted you to be able to meet them in a more personal atmosphere. These people are here to serve the community,” Martínez said. “We are blessed to have all of these experts here at DHR Health, and to have you helping us get the information out there.”

In addition to Cárdenas and Martínez, the luncheon also brought other top leaders with the hospital system, including:

• Alonzo Cantú, Member, Board of Managers, DHR Health;

• Marissa Castañeda, Senior Executive Vice President, DHR Health;

• Robert David Martínez, MD, Chief Medical Officer and Chief Physician Executive, DHR Health;

• Sohail Rao, MD, MA, D.PHIL, Executive Vice President, DHR Health, President and Chief Executive Officer, DHR Health Institute for Research and Development; and

• Jeffrey Skubic, D.O., M.Sc., Interim Trauma Medical Director, Function Level 1 Trauma, DHR Health.

“Here in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, we probably took the highest death toll per capita (per person) of any population in Texas, one of the highest in the country as well,” Cárdenas continued. “That’s really sad, and that’s because of our culture, it’s who we are – our gente (people). We have multigenerational households, and those multigenerational households are where this virus can be really devastating.” The U.S. Census Bureau

defines multigenerational families as those consisting of more than two generations living under the same roof. Many researchers also include households with a grandparent and at least one other generation.

Cárdenas shared a view of the emotional suffering experienced by those most affected by COVID-19.

“As physicians, we take care of patients at the bedside every single day. We speak to families and we speak to patients about hope. We speak to families about death. We speak to families about a whole lot of things,” he said. “What I would like to do is to ask you for a moment of silence to think about all of those who we have lost to COVID-19 this year (2020).”

Since the first COVID-19 infection surfaced in the region last spring, news rooms in South Texas have provided expert reporting on what is known about COVID-19, what individuals can do to help protect themselves, and how medical professionals and advanced hospital systems, such as DHR Health, heal and save many COVID-19 patients – especially at the risk of those health professionals’ own well-being and life.

“When we were looking down the tunnel of what was COVID back in March (2020) – and we were all told we had to stay at home, we had to socially isolate – I had to leave my clothes in the garage before I walked into the house, take my shoes off, and then shower before I could meet with my family,” Cárdenas recalled. “That story was told over and over again by those in the health care profession, as we were all dealing with this unknown, invisible enemy. As it (COVID-19) morphed (changed), the story morphed all during that time.”

But good news is here at last, he said, linking the arrival in mid-December in the Valley of the first series of COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to the inspirational December 2020 holiday season.

“We had talks of a vaccine early on, but there were predictions that it was going to take a very long time, maybe a year or longer, to maybe get that done. This happened in nine months,” he said. “It’s nothing short of a modern medicine/modern science miracle.”

On Tuesday, December 15,

2020, DHR Health received 5,85o doses of the vaccine, which have since been administered. DHR Health, similar to major health care providers nationwide, stand ready to receive more of the vaccines and to continue inoculating people in the near and foreseeable future.

“Well, a vaccine got here, and I would not be truthful with you if I did not tell you that I got a little emotional – maybe more than a little emotional – on this last Tuesday (December 15, 2020), when the boxes were opened in our pharmacy, and I watched our pharmacy techs unbox them and move them into the freezer, because hope had arrived in a box,” Cárdenas revealed. “The sword for the army of hope had arrived. We can now say that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train, it is actually the light of hope that we can beat this.” He focused on the continu

ing duties of the news media to report on all COVID-19 aspects and developments.

“That’s where you come in. You’ve been doing it since the beginning – each one of you is excellent at reporting what happens, and getting the pubic service message out there about what it means to be potentially exposed (to COVID-19), but now we have a way to fight back,” Cárdenas emphasized. “That fight back is to be able to get vaccinated, and we’re going to need you to do that coverage, to do that messaging to our public, that they need to get vaccinated, because that’s how we beat this.”

To help assure Valley residents of the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine, he offered himself as an example.

“With the number of people who were tested (with the vaccines), so much is already known about its side effects. I was vaccinated on Thursday (December 17, 2020), and I am standing here, as are so many of my colleagues,” he said.

He said while COVID-19 vaccines continue to come down to the region, residents still must continue to be on guard.

“We have to be able to test, contact trace, maintain the public health measures that we have all talked about – wearing a mask, not touching your face, washing your hands, socially-distancing, and attempting not to congregate in close quarters, avoiding inside areas where airborne pathogens (virus), airborne germs could pass from person-to-person, and have a vaccine,” Cárdenas advised.

Social distancing, also called “physical distancing,” means keeping a safe space between yourself and other people who are not from your household. To practice social or physical distancing, stay at least six feet (about two arms’ length) from other people who are not from your household in both indoor and outdoor spaces.

“This is the weapon that we needed to make the public health strategy real,” he proclaimed. “That’s why the vaccine is our weapon against this potential there. We are really, really excited about that.”

Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, Ltd (“DHR”) and its general partner, RGV Med, Inc. (“RGV Med”) own and operate a 519 licensed bed general acute care hospital with over 60 specialties and subspecialties located at 5501 South McColl in Edinburg. The facility is one of the largest physician-owned facilities in the United States that began as an ambulatory surgery center in 1997.

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 presence in McAllen, including its South Campus located immediately across Owassa Road in northwest McAllen.

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

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