Traveling nurses exit their hotel to a celebration on Friday in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

BY VALERIE GONZALEZ

There was no time for a hero’s welcome when hundreds of Krucial Staffing Firm nurses arrived on rush order to a COVID-19 overtaxed DHR Health 73 days ago. On the eve of the first contingent’s departure, dozens of first responders gathered early Friday morning to give them a proper farewell.

As soon as the nurses walked out of the DoubleTree Suites hotel in McAllen a little before 6:30 a.m., they quickly caught on to the surprise organized by one of their own, Jason Anderson, a nurse practitioner from Orlando.

“We work 12-hour shifts, six days a week,” Anderson said.

He’s been in the Rio Grande Valley since the first day the additional medical staff was deployed. Before that, he was in New York City for 69 days.

The first contingent is set to leave on Monday. Anderson organized this surprise parade to ensure his teammates wouldn’t go without seeing this show of support.

Waving hello and holding out their phones recording the Edinburg and McAllen Fire Department trucks and McAllen Police Department motorcycle police and units, about 50 medical staff members circled the buses before finally boarding.

“Even though I’m working all these hours, it feels great knowing that this place appreciates the help, appreciates us coming down here, leaving our homes, leaving our families,” Addie Adebiyi, a registered nurse from Maryland, said.

This spirit of gratitude pervaded the parade of buses, trucks, motorcycles and SUVs that made their way down Second Street, then Dove Street before ending at DHR Health’s emergency room parking lot. An American flag was hanging overhead from a raised fire truck ladder as the nurses got off the bus to be greeted by local nurses and public officials ready to express their appreciation.

Adebiyi was greeted with an embrace from a local nurse whom she met on her first day in the Valley.

“They’re ‘mi familia,” she said, stressing her increased use of Spanish since she arrived two months ago.

It was a different time then.

When they arrived on June 25, Hidalgo County residents were still under orders to limit gatherings.

Inside, staff at Lower Rio Grande Valley area hospitals were caring for 398 patients.

It was about a month away from the peak hospitalization record when 1,606 people were in Valley hospitals on July 22, according to state data.

Dr. Robert Martinez, DHR Health chief physician executive, said over a loudspeaker that the medical staff came when local medical professionals were already experiencing overwhelming exhaustion.

“It’s a finite number of people taking care of more, and more, and more, and more patients at a high-level of stress. That’s what I mean by exhaustion,” Martinez said. “You can’t do your best work when you’re exhausted. You can’t think straight. So, really these nurses came at a great time when our nurses needed relief.”

About 170 nurses are staying at the DoubleTree hotel, according to Andrea Rodriguez, the manager. Anderson said there’s about 1,000 contracted employees throughout the Valley. The amount of people sent to Texas exceeds the 4,500 employees, according to Anderson, who were sent to help with New York’s City’s COVID-19 wave. Texas set a record for the company — one they don’t wish to repeat.

Local and traveling nurses wait at DHR Emergency entrance for the buses carrying nurses Friday in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

“It is good to see that the curve is flattening here. There is certainly a decrease in admissions,” Anderson said. “However, it appears that we’re waiting to see if there’s going to be a spike after the holiday. There was certainly a spike after Memorial Day. Many of my patients actually came back positive after visiting South Padre Island.”

Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez, mayor for the city of Pharr and a surgeon at DHR Health, shared that message more succinctly.

“We don’t want to see you,” he said referring to Valley residents. But, if the downward trend changes direction, they’ll be there.