COVID testing for BCISD part of MEHOP’s mission

Sentinel photo/Mike Reddell
MEHOP had a team that tested 91 people for the Bay City Independent School District after a student tested positive during the district’s summer sports camp.

   MEHOP prepared to test about 300 students and BCISD staff that were potentially exposed to COVID-19 at a recent BCISD summer sporting camp. 
   At the end of the day, 91 were tested.
   “We’re delighted to be able to assist BCISD and the community with this testing,” said Celeste Harrison, CEO of MEHOP.
   The tests were open to students, and any BCISD staff member who could have been exposed to the COVID case.
   “This event was organized by MEHOP Director of Nursing, Christine Lara, who organized and launched the event in 24 hours. MEHOP is fortunate to have the have the capability and staff,” Harrison added. “It’s an enormous job.”
   Since the beginning of the crisis MEHOP has been grateful for donations for Personal Protective Equipment. 
   Several people in the local community donated cloth masks, Larger donations were made by Medical Bridges and Direct Relief. 
   Medical Bridges is a Houston organization that provides surplus medical supplies. 
   “They contacted us a year ago, but we’ve never dreamed we would need their services,” Harrison noted.
   Medical Bridges has provided MEHOP with N95 and surgical masks. 
   Direct Relief has been a long time partner of MEHOP’s. Direct Relief has been known as a provider of free supplies to non-profits and is always instrumental with supplies for hurricane relief. For COVID-19 response MEHOP received masks and shields and was awarded grant funding for clinic modifications to increase patient and staff safety.
      Harrison said the testing Friday was in keeping with MEHOP’s mission as a community health center.
   MEHOP has been testing for COVID-19 since the pandemic began in mid-March. MEHOP (Matagorda Episcopal Health Outreach Program) is considered a medical/health safety net for the state, she added. 
   Without a local health department, MEHOP fulfills this role in both Matagorda and Wharton Counties.
   The Department of State Health Service (DSHS) was contacted about the summer camp student who tested positive for COVID-19, Harrison said.
   DSHS turned to MEHOP to handle the testing, Harrison said.
   “Consistent with MRMC and other health care providers in our community the volume of testing is substantially up. Six weeks ago, MEHOP was testing a couple a day on average, right now the average tested/day is 13.
   MEHOP recognized early in its history the opportunities of becoming a federally qualified health center, Harrison explained.
   Initially, MEHOP’s applications were turned down, she said, but was successful with the American Recovery and Investment Act in 2009.
   “With the influx of federal funding, MEHOP began to grow and fulfill the need in the community,” Harrison said.
   “Once the federal dollars are given to an entity, they expect you to grow and strive for improvements in quality every year,” she remarked.
   She said the community health center took advantage of the federal investment and has grown from 1 site to 3 in Bay City; 1 in Palacios and soon 2 in Wharton.
   MEHOP provides several primary care services in Matagorda and Wharton counties and its role in the COVID era is shown by last week’s testing numbers.
   “If ever you need help we’re here. In these uncertain times, people are anxious and depression is evident,” Harrison said.
   A major concern for Harrison is the “fear” of COVID is causing those with chronic health concerns to wait too long before seeking routine care and the children are not continuing their well child care which could impact their health longer term. 
   The most alarming is EMS responding to patients who have much higher acuity (sicker) who have waited far too long to call for an ambulance. 
   Those who wait until they’re extremely ill will suffer the effects of their chronic health condition so much more than if they had addressed the illness six months earlier, she added.”
   The volume of testing is up and the percent testing positive is much higher than previously. The increase is nearly 100% higher positive test rate.
   Since Friday, June 19, when Harrison was interviewed, the Emergency Operation Center announced 32 new COVID-19 positive cases through Monday.   

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