County could fund hospital requests, get paid back

Ector County could turn every one federal dollar into two if they respond to the financial requests of both Medical Center Hospital and Odessa Regional Medical Center for part of the $16.1 million that the county has gotten from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

MCH CEO Russell Tippin, who asked the county for $7 million two weeks from the ARPA monies, said during Thursday’s Zoom COVID news briefing that the county could get that $7 million and the $2.5 million requested by ORMC back through a FEMA program.

Both Tippin and ORMC CEO Stacey Brown responded to questions about the COVID-related funds during the last news conference of the week where it was revealed that 43 people have died at MCH of COVID since Aug. 1.

“There is a pathway for the county to turn every $1 into $2 by running it through FEMA,” Tippin said.

He said that FEMA reimbursement doesn’t come immediately but that he made the county judge and commissioners aware of the program when he requested the $7 million for ventilators, contract medical services and funding to help incentivize staff.

County officials, during an August meeting, indicated that the county has 90 days to one year to consider how to spend the $16.1 million. Commissioner Greg Simmons on Thursday said it is his understanding that the money could take more than a year to be returned to the county if it is run through the FEMA program as Tippin and Brown have requested.

He indicated that he had not seen anything in writing about the FEMA program. When asked why not fund the hospital requests now if the money was coming back in a year, he said multiple agencies are seeking part of the county’s $16.1 million.

Tippin and Brown agreed that the need is critical for the funding now with COVID surging across the country and in Ector County.

“We have asked that they would consider our request … and they are aware of how it is available,” Tippin said.

Brown agreed that there is an urgent need now. “We respectfully request that they give it now and we know the funding they have received is eligible for the use of that money and could help our community and our hospitals,” Brown said, adding that the request should be funded as the county knows “that down the road they could get that money back.”

All health officials reminded Odessans that the Labor Day holiday essentially kicks off the “holiday” season and to be careful with gatherings.

MCH had 102 total COVID patients in-house with 38 in critical care and 34 on ventilators. Of the vented patients, 28 were not vaccinated. The age range of patients was 16-88.

ORMC had 32 COVID patients with 22 in ICU and nine of those ventilated. The age range was 25 to 94 and about 46 percent of the patients were 60 and below.

Tippin said in addition to COVID that MCH had a “bumper crop” in labor and delivery with about 40 moms pushing the MCH patient census to 300 Thursday.

He said since Monday that 15 people have died of COVID-related illness at MCH. He said the critical care number at MCH has gone down since Aug. 1, but that much of that is due to deaths.

Both Brown and Tippin indicated that most patients at both hospitals were from Ector County.

Odessa Regional Medical Center Regional Chief of Staff Dr. Rohith Saravanan said there are signs of hope with Ector County’s vaccination rate for those who are eligible finally going over 50 percent for those who have received at least one dose.

“Hopeful is the best word … We are starting to see more of the community get vaccinated … but on the other hand it is going through our community so fast,” he said of the recent COVID surge.

He praised outpatient therapy and said it prevents hospitalization.

“The UK had a sharp rise, and once it peaked, it started to fall quickly … Have we peaked? We don’t know the answer to that,” Saravanan said.