Hospital administrator reflects on lessons learned one year after first confirmed COVID-19 case in Houston area

FORT BEND COUNTY – A year ago Thursday, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in Fort Bend County.

It was not only the first in the Houston area but the entire state of Texas. The patient was a man in his 70s who survived after contracting the virus on a cruise ship in Egypt.

“At that time, we didn’t know how deadly it would be,” said Joe Freudenberger, CEO of Oak Bend Medical Center in Richmond in Fort Bend County.

Freudenberger said there were so many unknowns a year ago, complicated by rapidly changing guidelines and even politics.

“You have this potential for harm to family, friends, and self,” Freudenberger said. “On top of uncertainty as to what the true path is that we should take.”

The CEO said the path became more clear through the result of teamwork and in some cases trial and error for a virus that had never been seen before.

The disease continues to have negative ancillary effects as people with other chronic conditions are not seeking treatment out of fear of contracting COVID-19.

“COVID has hampered our ability to manage the overall health of our community,” said Freudenberger. “We’re gonna see that manifest itself out over the course of 2021 if not beyond.”

Freudenberger said the emergence of COVID-19 vaccines has been a game-changer and a year from now he expects pockets of cases -- as opposed to widespread surges. He likened his staff and other medical professionals to warriors and said we should thank every nurse and doctor we know.

“Watching these folks labor on the front lines, it is a war they have been fighting,” he said. “It is remarkable what they’ve done to preserve life.”

Freudenberger said one positive his medical center has seen from this pandemic is that it bonded his medical team and other staff. He said turnover declined substantially last year and teamwork under stress helped accomplish that.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning anchor, husband, dad, German Shepherd owner, Crossfitter, Game of Thrones junkie, chupacabra hunter.