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With temperatures reaching an all-time high, at least three hospital systems in the Rio Grande Valley have reported a rise in the number of emergency room visits related to heat illness, and meteorologists continue to warn that it’s not getting much cooler anytime soon.
DHR Health, South Texas Health System and Valley Baptist Health System recently indicated that there have been more ER visits due to heat exhaustion or heat stroke, or any heat-related condition, thus far this summer compared to 2022.
STHS said Thursday that 127 patients have been treated for heat-related illnesses at their ERs and at its six freestanding emergency departments during the first half of 2023, which is a 16% increase compared to the same time last year.
Healthcare facilities operated by STHS are primarily located in the Upper Valley.
DHR Health facilities throughout the Valley have treated 16 patients for heat exhaustion or heat stroke since June 1.
Up from four in June 2022, there were nine patients treated this June and seven in July — two who are 19 and under, seven between the ages of 20 and 39, four between 40 and 59, and three who are 60 and over.
“Most were discharged from the emergency room,” DHR Health spokesperson Veronica Yunes said via email Tuesday.
According to Yunes, there were four men who were admitted to hospitals due to these conditions this summer, and they range in age from 16 to 50. There’s one 28-year-old person on a ventilator in an intensive care unit.
“This is based on chief complaint or diagnosis code,” Yunes explained. “There may be more that were documented differently.”
Although data has been unavailable yet from Valley Baptist, spokesperson Matt Lynch said at least one ER doctor has seen an increase in heat-related patients as of late June.
These rises in ER visits coincide with the record heat wave seen both nationally but more significantly in local communities, according to meteorologists Barry Goldsmith and Jeremy Katz of the National Weather Service in Brownsville.
In fact, NWS statistics show that the Brownsville, McAllen, Harlingen and Rio Grande City areas all recorded the highest temperatures on record, going as far back as the 19th century.
By June 26, Brownsville and McAllen experienced the highest temperatures on average during an 18-day period this summer with 89 and 90.8 degrees, respectively — the hottest period of time ever experienced in those communities since documentation began on Jan. 1, 1878 for Brownsville and June 1, 1941 for McAllen.
The same can be said for Harlingen and Rio Grande City, where the 18-day average produced 90.4- and 91.9-degree temperatures, respectively. Documentation began for Harlingen on Feb. 7, 1912 and on Jan. 1, 1897 for Rio Grande City.
Katz said Friday that it’s unlikely temperatures will cool down significantly until mid-September or October.
As the summer months rolled in and temperatures began to rise, local officials have often warned residents about heat-related illnesses and how one can prevent them.
Now as the heat index almost routinely hovers somewhere between 100 and 115 degrees, the city of McAllen wants to remind residents that various facilities across the city are serving as cooling centers.
McAllen officials said Wednesday that they opened cooling centers in town for residents who have limited means of staying out of the sun.
Those centers include the following.
>> Lark Community Center, at 2601 Lark Ave., will be open to the public from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. For more information on the center call (956) 681-3340.
>> Las Palmas Community Center, located at 1921 N. 25th St., will open to residents from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. For more information, call (956) 681-3350.
>> Palm View Community Center, located at 3401 Jordan Road, will be open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Call (956) 681-3360 for more information.
Along with the centers, the city is reminding residents they can also enter any McAllen public library to cool off, charge their devices and use the free Wi-Fi. Residents do not need a library card to enter the facility.
>> Main Library: 4001 N. 23rd St.;
>> Lark Branch Library: 2601 Lark Ave.;
>> Palm View Branch Library: 3401 N. Jordan Ave.
Tom Castañeda, system director of marketing and public relations for STHS, encouraged residents to stay out of the sun as much as possible and listed symptoms of heat illnesses for public awareness.
“The number of people seeking medical treatment for heat-related health issues is a testament to the dangers of extreme heat. This is why the South Texas Health System Trauma & Critical Care Institute urges Valley residents to limit their time outdoors, if possible, especially during peak hours. If you do spend time outside, stay hydrated,” Castañeda said via email Thursday. “If you begin to experience heat-related symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion and muscle cramps or spasms, seek immediate medical attention.”
In a July 6 interview, Lizlette Quintanilla, a dietitian at DHR Health, offered tips to eat healthy and stay cool during the summer months, noting that residents should consider watermelon, cantaloupe, apples, oranges, grapefruits and jicama as opposed to cold snacks that are unhealthier like ice cream.
The business community is also pitching in as Lone Star National Bank — together with Raymondville Chamber of Commerce and VTX 1 — collected 300 fans for anyone struggling to pay their electric bills in Willacy County.
The bank said in a news release Friday that, with temperatures continuing to rise, residents are having trouble affording the cost of their electric bill. The goal of the partnership is to provide residents some financial relief.
“By providing fans, the initiative seeks to alleviate some of the financial burdens associated with high utility bills and help individuals maintain a comfortable living environment,” the release stated.
The chamber distributed these fans to local organizations who identified people in need.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to attribute STHS’s information to the hospital system and not a spokesperson.