Achieving Universal, Affordable, Quality Health Care
Though Counties are not the decision makers when it comes to providing universal health care or things like Medicaid expansion, we do play a very significant role in providing access to affordable and quality healthcare. I have long been an advocate and champion for access to both physical and mental healthcare. The University Medical Center is a County owned hospital and the Commissioners Court appoints their board members and approves their budget and tax rate. I have consistently supported UMC over the years, making sure that they have the resources they need to provide quality healthcare. I have supported the creation of numerous neighborhood healthcare clinics in strategically located sites throughout the County, and have been a staunch advocate for the creation of such a clinic in Precinct 2. These clinics help create more access by bringing the hospital’s services closer to the people.
I was heavily involved in the effort to save El Paso Children’s Hospital during my first term in office. I was part of the team designated by the Commissioners Court to work with UMC, EPCH, Texas Tech, the State of Texas, and the courts to help EPCH come out of bankruptcy with a plan to make sure the hospital became part of the El Paso County Hospital District, but maintaining a certain level of autonomy. I am proud to say those efforts were very successful, and as of two years ago, the Children’s Hospital posted numbers in the black for the first time and in 2022 will be celebrating their 10th anniversary.
I am proud of the work my office has done to try and attack our negative healthcare outcomes at their root, including having authored the policy that created the County’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which incentivizes operations to provide access to healthy food in food deserts in El Paso. El Paso’s hospitals are constantly treating chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer, which are all related, many times, to one’s diet. We can’t expect people to eat healthy if they don’t have access to healthy food options in their neighborhoods. The County has now invested $1.5 million in this program, leveraging another close to $2 million in funding from local partners and grants from the federal government. The Pandemic underscored the need for us to continue down this road, making sure we help our constituents attack their healthcare problems at the root. We have lost close to three thousand people to COVID-19 and the vast majority of those who succumbed to the virus had pre-existing health conditions like diabetes, hypertension and obesity. We have much more work to do, but are on the right track.
Access to mental healthcare has also been a priority of mine. Since 2015, I have served on the board of Emergence Health Network, El Paso’s local mental health authority. I proposed creating a strategic planning process within that organization, which has helped EHN to focus on projects like becoming a Certified Community Behavioral Health Center, drawing down more funding from the state and federal governments to provide more resources for training in Mental Health First aid in schools, and revamping our pay scales. I am most proud of my work in creating Crisis Intervention Teams at both the El Paso Police Department and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, which are units specially trained in Mental Health and embedded with mental health care professionals that can more easily identify people they may come across that are having mental health crises, and de-escalate and make sure those people receive the help they need, instead of putting them in danger of being hurt or even killed.