San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

March 16th, 2010
Hays County to give Guadalupe residents free immunizations

0316hcfcThe Hays County Public Health Department will offer free immunizations for Redwood residents in Guadalupe County next week. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

Hays County taxpayers will provide free immunizations to Guadalupe County residents at Redwood Baptist Church on March 27.

In addition to the Hays County Personal Health Department (PHD), dozens of organizations have agreed to provide services and information at the church from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. for residents of the Redwood community. Community organizers and Guadalupe County officials said about 6,000 people live in 600-1,000 homes in Redwood, which they described as a low-income area and a “Little Mexico.”

Redwood residents live in Guadalupe County’s unincorporated area and the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) of the City of San Marcos. Redwood is just more than eight miles from San Marcos, which is the Hays County seat, and just more than 18 miles from Seguin, which is the Guadalupe County seat.

Hays County Commissioners voted last week, 4-0, to authorize the county’s Personal Health Department to offer vaccinations at the fair in Redwood. Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-Wimberley), the only Republican member of the court, was not present for the discussion or vote. Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) placed the issue on the commissioners court’s agenda at the request of Hays County PHD Director Priscilla Hargraves.

“Since approximately 1,150 clients were from out of county (in 2008-2009), I would estimate not very many clients are from Guadalupe County,” Hargraves said. “Some would be visitors, people passing through, etc. The primary issue is that the majority of the clients we see from Guadalupe County live close enough to San Marcos to attend San Marcos CISD shop in San Marcos stores and do their primary business with San Marcos businesses. For these clients, the health department is their closest provider for medical services.”

Hargraves said about 10 percent of the 11,500 clients her department saw in 2008-2009 were from outside Hays County.

“Our stats show that for FY 08-09, 16,625 VFC (Texas Vaccines for Children) immunizations were given, and 4,332 flu shots were given,” Hargraves said. “As far as the VFC immunizations given, a client could have received one or any number of vaccines. Flu shots were probably individual clients. We average about 11,500 individual clients annually, but, of course, that number is divided among all our services, with some of those clients receiving more than one service.”

Hargraves said the cost to the taxpayers for the county’s participation in the Redwood health fair will be in the form of “comp time” for three administrative staffers and “admin time” for three nurses.

“Other costs involved are the ancillary supplies needed to deliver the vaccines — which would be the same whether the clients receive the immunizations there or in the PHD — i.e., cotton, alcohol, gauze, band aids, etc.,” Hargraves said. “Vaccines are provided free from the state as a public health service, and we’ve found that health fairs often attract people who otherwise would be too proud to come into a clinic and explain that they can’t pay for services. Many people don’t understand that if you can’t afford to pay, the vaccines are free. It’s a public health issue. The more children who are vaccinated means we are all better protected from preventable, communicable diseases.”

Hargraves said the county may normally charge administrative fees for immunization services. Commissioners gave about the same reasons as Hargraves for offering vaccinations at the upcoming fair in Redwood.

“(Redwood) residents are in San Marcos CISD,” said Hays County Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos), who represents the part of the county closest to Redwood. “So they come into San Marcos and Hays County to do a lot of their work and business. We are spending the personnel — Hays County taxpayer money — on them to do that. So we asked (Hays County Civil Division Chief) Mark Kennedy whether we could authorize this participation. He felt very confident that because they are state funds that are paying for vaccines, we are using minimal costs to Hays County taxpayers to go with providing them that. We also felt that it would help prevent even more severe illnesses from coming into the school systems, and so we just felt that it would be a benefit to participate in it.”

Guadalupe County Precinct 2 Commissioner Cesareo Guadarrama, who represents an area including Redwood, said Monday that he was not aware of the health fair and would call Ingalsbe soon to learn more about it.

“I’m sure that Guadalupe County would have participated in one form or another had we known,” Guadarrama said. “We would have been more than happy.”

Guadarrama said Guadalupe County does not have a health department, though it does co-own Guadalupe Regional Medical Center with the City of Seguin.

“Sure, they could have provided some kind of service, vaccinations or something else, but without being part of the plan, I don’t know what we could have asked the hospital to do and what they would be willing to do, or what it would take to get it done, since we weren’t aware of what was going on with the health fair,” Guadarrama said. “But I think it’s a wonderful idea. I want to make sure that I make that clear. I think it’s a great idea, a wonderful idea. I’m surprised that Hays County is getting involved, but I like their reason for getting involved, because it’s regional thing. So, I like that.”

Guadarrama said the distance Redwood residents have to travel to reach Guadalupe Regional Medical Center is “a burden” for some of them. Guadarrama said the City of Seguin, Guadalupe County, and the Community Council of South Central Texas once collaborated to offer public transportation to Redwood residents. However, the service was discontinued due to low ridership and because it was not cost-effective.

“(Redwood residents) are sort of not claimed by anybody, and so, oftentimes, they get overlooked when it comes to services or information and just outreach from the usual sources,” said Methodist Health Care Ministries Wesley Nurse Cindy Ybarra, who plans to participate in the health fair. “(Redwood is) lower income. But if you drive out there, even though it’s known to be a lower income community, there’s a lot of pride, and there’s a lot of houses that are really very much well-loved and well-maintained by the families. And so, it’s a sweet community, but it just needs some help. It just needs some support.”

Ybarra said the decision by Hays County commissioners to offer immunizations in Redwood “is a very, very generous move on their part.”

Ybarra said Seton Hospital will offer breast screening at the health fair, as well as diabetes prevention and treatment-related services. Other entities planning to attend the fair include Central Texas Medical Center (CTMC), Community Action (which will provide a social worker to talk about the importance of avoiding “family stressors”), Catholic Charities of Central Texas, the Hays Caldwell Women’s Center, the Lion’s Club (which will offer eye exams and glaucoma exams), Precious Life Services of Suicide Prevention, Superior Health Plan, WIC (Women, Infants and Children, a federal grant program) and the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC). Ybarra said the American Cancer Society may also offer services at the fair.

“It’s our first attempt at bringing greater awareness to the Redwood and Rancho Vista communities of health care options and other resources of the community that are available to them,” Ybarra said.

Rancho Vista is a subdivision located in Redwood. Health fair organizer and Redwood Baptist Church member Judy Lanning said perhaps 100 entities will participate in the event.

“When (Redwood residents) have to work on things like their food stamps or WIC, or mental health and MHMR (Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center), they can’t go to San Marcos, although San Marcos is close,” Lanning said. “They have to go to (Bluebonnet Trails Community MHMR Center) in Seguin for mental health and MHMR, they have to go to Seguin to work on anything to do with weatherization or electricity assistance, or food stamps, or to apply for CHIPs (Texas Children’s Health Insurance Program), all of that. So it’s trying to bring these services to them.”

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