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COVID-19 at UT Health East Texas: Hospitalizations falling, more incentives planned for health care workers using funds from Smith County

Published: Sep. 29, 2021 at 7:30 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 29, 2021 at 11:06 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) reports hospitalizations in the Tyler/Longview trauma service area continue to drop.

“We’re starting to see a decrease in the number of people presenting with symptoms and the testing rates are down,” said Tom Cummins, MD, Chief Medical Officer for UT Health East Texas. “And so our hospitalization numbers are beginning to fall across the division.”

Cummins gives credit to a variety of things for the decrease, including increasing vaccination rates and antibody infusions.

“We’re actually starting to see a decrease in demand for those (infusions) in the last few days,” Cummins said. “It’s also very possible that the virus mutated again and became something less infectious. I haven’t seen reports of that yet, but that’s another possibility.”

And while the numbers are falling, the region is still seeing numbers higher than previous waves, and healthcare workers continue to fight fatigue.

“The first time around, we had people putting signs on the hospital grounds, we had people coming through, we had people bringing meals to show appreciation. And this second surge, which has been so much greater, we’ve been a little bit alone,” said Vicki Briggs, CEO of UT Health Tyler.

Briggs hopes to give her hardworking healthcare workers a reason to smile over the next two months using incentives, by way of $2 million from Smith County via the American Rescue Plan Act. The money will only go to local health care workers, not traveling or contract nurses.

“They’ve sat side by side with others who we’ve had to bring in to offset those that have left that are making three and four times the money they’re making, and we certainly can’t match that. But it’s hard and you would feel the same way,” Briggs said.

And while Briggs said this will not solve the health care worker shortage, it shows a commitment to those caring for their community.

“The only way we’re going to provide great healthcare to the people in this community that choose us is to have great healthcare professionals here feeling good and valued for the work that they do,” Briggs said.

As reported on Tuesday, CHRISTUS Mother Frances is also getting $2 million to help retain workers. Freestanding emergency rooms in Smith County are also receiving $100,000 each.

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