STEPHEN HEMELT — Faith in medical community drives COVID-19 response

Published 12:10 am Saturday, April 25, 2020

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The Medical Center of Southeast Texas is a different place these days.

I had the privilege to visit the Port Arthur hospital this week as part of a spotlight series we’re producing for the June edition of Greater Port Arthur The Magazine.

We normally include numerous “Scene” photos in each edition from various community parties, galas and events.

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As we all know, social distancing has put an end to those events. So, instead, we’re using that magazine space to showcase our many frontline medical workers persevering under difficult circumstances.

Wednesday was my first visit to the hospital since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of our community. The difference, although 100 percent warranted, in visitor experience is drastic.

The facility parking lot is more than half empty, quite the opposite of normal business-hours visits, as it may represent the most packed group of vehicles in Port Arthur under normal circumstances.

All non-essential employees now work from home and there are no regular patient visitors.

A polite but emphatic greeting meets everyone who walks in the door.

“Who you are” and “where are you going” are quickly established. Your temperature must be checked and you must have a facemask to proceed.

No, it’s not convenient, but it’s necessary. While I was waiting for my escort this week, a young couple entered with a newborn baby. The adults were wearing masks, and the baby’s carrier seat was covered.

When told only one parent could proceed, the father understood and wished a determined but nervous mother good luck.

My visit lasted just more than two hours and included a dozen stops. In all, I photographed more than 110 people working everywhere from the emergency room to food preparation.

Everyone wore a mask, and the overwhelming feeling within the building was determination.

There were so many amazing stories of community giving shared from food deliveries to car washes. Our community is blessed with great caregivers, and those caregivers are blessed with an appreciative community.

It was easy to see the strength in the team at the Medical Center.

We’re going to have to put our faith in the strength of the medical community to lead us back to the way of life we all used to enjoy.

My faith will be tested next week when I drop off my wife for surgery.

She’s undergoing a serious procedure but will not be allowed a visitor or family escort.

She’ll be wheeled off and put under sedation without a hand held or forehead kiss from her many loved ones. Those interactions will have to take place at home before leaving and at the facility parking lot.

One thing I know I can hang my hat on is my wife’s strength. She will surely be calmer than her husband and children.

She’ll have a talented and dedicated team of medical professionals shepherding

her through each stage and, God willing, will only need to spend one night in the hospital and away from her family.

The scariest parts of the coronavirus are the unknowns. We don’t see the destruction like a flood. We don’t feel the onslaught like a hurricane.

Yet, it separates us from all the great things that make life so special, mainly each other.

It’s now, more than ever, that we turn to our medical community for help, in both a treatment and a cure.

It is no simple task, but they have my faith.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher of The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at or 409-721-2445.