Miscommunication over pop-up hospital between Abbott’s office and Dallas County stirs up chaos

by | Apr 6, 2020 | Coronavirus, Policy

A three-way miscommunication between Gov. Greg Abbott’s office, federal officials and Dallas County led to plenty of fingerpointing and stress this weekend.

In a letter written on Sunday by Abbott’s Chief of Staff Luis Saenz and sent to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins— the county’s top executive official— Saenz said federal officials had informed Abbott’s office that Dallas County was not planning on utilizing a temporary army hospital built at the Kay Baily Hutchinson Convention Center.

The letter warned that Dallas County had until 5:00 p.m. Monday to begin using the pop-up hospital or else federal officials would relocate it away from Dallas.

Following the publication of the letter by media, Judge Jenkins held a press conference denying the notion that Dallas County did not want to use the pop-up hospital.

“I don’t think it’ll take people until 5 p.m. tomorrow to stick a pin in this rumor,” Jenkins told reporters. “What I would say to the governor’s chief of staff is I’ve got the same cell phone number that I did when Rick Perry was the governor, and I’d just encourage you to pick up the phone and use it.”

“It is different than it was with Rick Perry, whereas during [the 2014 Ebola outbreak] we might talk at least once a day,” Jenkins said elsewhere during the conference. 

The confusion stems from a Saturday phone call to Abbott by a Defense Department official who said he was confused as to why Dallas County did not plan to use the temporary hospital. Jenkins said federal officials misinterpreted a conversation they had together, leading to their confused call to Abbott and the subsequent letter sent by Abbott’s office to Dallas County. Jenkins said Dallas hospitals have yet to reach full capacity and there was no need to begin moving patients to the temporary hospital. Jenkins said the county would most likely begin using the space within a few weeks. 

“We don’t need to send people from a state-of-the-art hospital to a convention center when our hospital’s at 50% capacity,” Jenkins said.

As of Monday, 6,812 positive cases and 127 fatalities of COVID-19 have been reported in the state. Harris County leads the state with 1,284 confirmed cases followed by Dallas County with 1,015.

Abbott has ordered Texans to stay at home and to only venture out when doing essential services and tasks. The order is in effect until April 30. 

 Photo: Tom Fox-Pool/Getty Images

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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