A miscommunication may have led to a letter from the office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott discussing the possible removal of a temporary hospital from the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas, County Judge Clay Jenkins says.
The letter, sent by Abbott’s Chief of Staff Luis Saenz, says the governor was told Jenkins did not plan to use the convention center for medical needs related to COVID-19.
Federal assistance could be lost if Jenkins did not make his intentions for the facility known by Monday, the letter said. Saenz wrote if the resources were not used in Dallas County, the federal government could move them to a location where they were needed.
However, Jenkins emphasized at a Sunday afternoon news conference that the county will use the hospital in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's a very odd letter in that it intimates that we don't want the federal resource at the convention center," Jenkins said. "When actually we are working hours and hours a day to stand up that resource."
He said Dallas' hospitals were approximately 50% full Sunday. And while Jenkins added the county would not move patients to the temporary hospital for the sake of using the space, he expected it could be necessary within two weeks.
Jenkins attributed the mix up to a series of phone calls.
The letter from Saenz gave Jenkins until 5 p.m. Monday to "accept" the facility at the convention center.
"I don't think it'll take people until 5 p.m. tomorrow to stick a pin in this rumor," Jenkins said. "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."
Jenkins said he was on call about the temporary hospital with W. Nim Kidd, the chief of the Texas Department of Emergency Management. At one point in the call Kidd said Saenz was on the other line, according to Jenkins.
Full coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it impacts you
Shortly thereafter, Jenkins said he heard of the letter first from a reporter, before it landed in his email inbox. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson also put out a statement that said he disagreed with Jenkins' stance on the hospital.
"I think what's happened is the governor's folks sent the letter, the mayor jumped to the conclusion it must be true, put some things on Twitter," Jenkins said. "All this was timed to be right before our press conference, so, you know, read between the lines and you can figure out this deal."
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Jenkins has urged Abbott to take more drastic steps to fight the spread of the virus.
A spokesperson with Abbott’s office said there was no confusion about what they believe Jenkins said, and that a voicemail from a Department of Defense official explains the message relayed to Abbott.
In the voicemail, Maj. Gen. Mike Stone says he spoke to Jenkins and ended the conversation with the understanding that Jenkins did not intend to use the convention center for medical purposes.
Stone then placed a call to Kidd to relay the message.
Finally, the message was sent to the Abbott's office, at which point the spokesperson said Abbott felt the need to send the letter.
Abbott's communications director, John Wittman, said the governor's stance was there should be appropriate communication with the Department of Defense to avoid losing much needed resources.
The facility at the convention center, which existing Dallas hospitals are working to decide how to best use, would have the space to care for 250 patients.
Additionally Sunday, Jenkins announced a virtual food drive to help those who have been laid off or furloughed due to the pandemic.
The food drive, which will benefit the North Texas Food Bank, is called Neighbors Helping Neighbors.
The food bank will create 25-pound boxes of fresh and nonperishable items to deliver to families. To learn more, click here.
The statement Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson released before Jenkins' press conference is below.
"I share the Governor’s concerns, and I was stunned and deeply disappointed to hear about Dallas County's position on the pop-up hospital at the City’s Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.
"This hospital is an important asset that we have worked proactively, collaboratively, and tirelessly with our federal and state partners to obtain for our region. I am alarmed that these medical resources are now at risk as we begin preparing for an anticipated surge in COVID-19 cases. I am committed to continuing to work with our partners to open this facility as quickly as we can to help serve our community’s needs.
"The City of Dallas has acted swiftly and aggressively to slow the spread of COVID-19. We cannot afford inaction now."