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Judge Clay Jenkins to Gov. Greg Abbott: Will You Just Call Me?

The confusion and frustration over the future of a pop-up hospital in Dallas County could have been avoided with a conversation, the judge contends.
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Judge Clay Jenkins wants Gov. Greg Abbott to know that Dallas County is still planning for the pop-up hospital at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. He also wants the governor to pick up the phone.

Jenkins has responded to a letter sent yesterday by Luis Saenz, Abbott’s chief of staff, that threatened to take away the pop-up hospital from Dallas County. Saenz wrote that he’d heard from federal officials that they were considering locating the hospital elsewhere because Jenkins had said he didn’t want it. Jenkins says that was not true, adding that that nobody called him to discuss this alleged claim, which originated in a voicemail. Mayor Eric Johnson quickly piled on, saying he was “stunned and deeply disappointed” about “Dallas County’s position on the pop-up hospital.”

Johnson did not call the judge either, basing his reaction off Saenz’s letter.

Saenz, meanwhile, wrote, “I have been informed by federal government officials that if you cannot make clear the acceptance of these facilities by 5:00 on Monday, April 6, the federal government may be forced to relocate these healthcare facilities to other regions.”

Jenkins in his letter reiterates that the county is planning for the hospital and preparing for its activation.

“If anything in this letter or any information not contained in this letter will be used as a reason to steer the FMS from Dallas County or jeopardize Dallas County’s ability to receive or obtain resources from the federal government, please contact me immediately and I will work to provide answers and a resolution,” Jenkins writes.

He has spoken about the hospital’s purpose for the last week, that it would be a release valve turned on when hospital capacity takes a hit from COVID-19 cases. It would start with 250 beds but have the ability to grow to as many as 1,400. It would serve as a “step-down” facility for patients no longer needing critical services. Rocky Vaz, the city’s director of emergency management, shared that belief. And suddenly, the governor is threatening to pull the services altogether.

Jenkins details his plans in the letter. He’s bringing an item to Tuesday’s Dallas County Commissioners Court meeting to approve funding for all the “wrap-around” services it will have to cover at the pop-up hospital: food, security, lab work, transportation, and environmental safeguards.

The judge said it has been about two weeks since he’s had a conversation with the governor. That lack of contact seems to indicate Jenkins has a different relationship with Abbott than our mayor does. Tristan Hallman, Mayor Johnson’s chief of communications, said the mayor spoke with the governor hours before the letter was released.

“We do not appear to have open lines of communication between the County and the Governor’s office during this critical time. Instead of drafting letters, I ask that you utilize the telephone for communication and coordination,” Jenkins wrote. “I and my staff are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week during this crisis.”

Abbott’s spokesperson hasn’t returned a request for comment left Sunday evening.

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