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Army deploys medical unit to Houston in help to fight COVID-19

Unit will provide doctors and nurses to treat patients at north side Hospital

HOUSTON – The U.S. Army came to Houston Tuesday to prepare for the opening of a new COVID-19 wing at the United Memorial Medical Center, which is staffed entirely by Army personnel.

“So we are headed down to Houston tonight. We will try to integrate with that hospital tomorrow and get training on their system and their policies and what not and then once we’re up and ready to go with all that the games on and we’re going to be there,” said Maj. Katie Bessler, the unit’s officer in charge.

The unit will backup the overworked hospital staff. The hospital is currently treating about 40 COVID-19 patients and has another 20 beds available, but not enough doctors and nurses to man them.

When KPRC 2 reporters first visited last May, doctors and nurses were already working at the capacity to handle the influx of patients. Since then, Dr. Joseph Varon says COVID-19 cases have multiplied exponentially.

“Our nurses are overworked. They’re extremely exhausted. This is a breath of fresh air for all of us,” said Dr. Joseph Varon, chief of Medicine at UMMC. “They’re bringing new physicians, they’re bringing a lot of nurses, bringing medics. Manpower. What we need to provide better service to our patients.”

The unit is the Army’s Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force. It’s bringing about 30 experience nurses and 13 doctors from all over the country. The new army wing of the hospital will be capable of treating up to 50 patients.

UMMC was chosen because of its location in Acres Homes, where it treats mostly minority patients who’ve been especially hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Whenever you enlist the United States military for assistance, you are at a peak crisis period. I think that is important for anyone who thinks this is going away, COVID-19. Anyone who thinks we’re at the end of it,” said Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee

The Army medics plan to begin treating patients Thursday. Bessler said they’re prepared to stay as long as they’re needed.