The Otto Kaiser Memorial Hospital (OKMH) has been in the forefront of the ongoing battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, and for Karnes County, the medical center has become a hub for all things related – especially the continued effort to vaccinate residents. 

December of 2020 saw the hospital re-envisioning its annual Holiday on the Hill event, which would invite the community each year to explore decorations and holiday displays put together by OKMH Auxiliary and hospital staff. The new plan made the event only accessible by vehicle, to allow for social distancing. At the time, COVID-19 vaccines had not reached the county and the nation was still in the midst of the winter surge. 

Soon, a battle loomed on the horizon for OKMH and other regional hospitals. 

In January, the Karnes Countywide reported that OKMH was among medical facilities awaiting to receive their first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines. 

“We have not received our vaccine yet, along with many other rural Texas hospitals,” said Barbara James, director of marketing and community relations for OKMH, at the time. “About 40 of our frontline staff have been able to get the vaccine from other providers while we wait for our shipment.

In that report, written by former Karnes Countwide editor Jeff Osborne, James added, “We anticipate that we will be on the list soon as we are an approved vaccine provider by the state of Texas.”

The hospital was offering vaccines to the general public by February. 

By mid-April, the hospital held several vaccine clinics, for people who were 50 years of age or older, 16 years of age with health conditions at risk of severe COVID-19 infection and most teachers and child care providers. Soon, the eligibility would widen to include anyone 18 or older. 

For its continued efforts, OKMH was recognized in August by the Kenedy Chamber of Commerce. The hospital was awarded Community Partner of the Year.

At the time, James explained that the hospital had two wings on the second floor and remained a critical access hospital with 25 beds on site. As stated in the Aug. 19 issue of the Karnes Countywide, the hospital had added additional negative pressure rooms as a tool to better care for patients with respiratory symptoms during the height of the first wave of COVID-19 in 2020 and early 2021. The need for that much space dedicated to COVID-19 had dwindled by August, but the county was starting to see a rise in case numbers once again

“We have definitely seen an uptick,” OKMH Chief Executive Officer David Lee said at the time. “In the past few weeks the numbers have crept up.

“We try to be a good partner to the community all the time,” Lee said. “The recognition from the chamber was probably in part because of the response to COVID. It is nice to be recognized, especially in a small community where we work hard to do what we can to support people in whatever ways we can.

“The recognition was also good for our clinicians, who are our front line members. It’s not that they need the recognition, but it’s nice for them to see that their efforts are definitely appreciated.”

As 2021 comes to a close, a new variant of COVID-19 –omicron – is sweeping the nation. While infections are starting to once again rise, the hospital rates are not, as of yet. While that remains a hopeful sign for the county, OKMH remains ready for the fight. 



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