In the light of the vote on Proposition 1, the Hidalgo County Healthcare District referendum, I would like to share some thoughts on 1) the current distribution of county indigent health care monies and 2) where we go from here.

I was saddened to learn of the continued lack of transparency from Hidalgo County Clinical Services, Inc., a non-profit comprised of membership of the hospitals in Hidalgo County, to administer the Indigent Health Care program. I stood before Hidalgo County Commissioners Court years ago and cautioned the Commission about handing over county tax money to them. After Commissioners gave them the money, they had little or no control over they spend it.

We have tried, unsuccessfully, for years to find out when and where they meet, and were told they meet behind closed doors and are not subject to the open meetings act. They have no community advisory committee. They decided to eliminate ancillary services provided under Sec. 65.0285 of the Health and Safety Code – which includes dental, vision, and services performed by mid-level health professionals, nurse practitioners, PA, etc. We were told those services were eliminated to save money. And yet this year I understand there was money left over.

It is sad that Hidalgo County gave the same amount last year, $5,500,000 as they did in 2012. The number of clients has gone from 7,401 to 5,186. The Hidalgo County Clinical Services, Inc., advertised this summer for more clients. What do they do with the money leftover? Why can’t they add back the services they removed or increase the eligibility from 21 percent of federal poverty to 25-30 percent? It just doesn’t seem like the County is fulfilling its obligation under the Texas Constitution, and Chapter 61 of the Health and Safety Code. The way in which they operate needs to be fixed.

The Healthcare District failed big time. We supported it because 20 percent of the funds would have gone to the federally-qualified and non-profit clinics and because a community advisory board would have been established. I did not hear one word from an opponent that said they didn’t want to help poor people with their health treatments. Most people I talked to felt the hospitals were crying poor with a loaf of bread under each arm.

Hidalgo County Commissioner Eddie Cantu spoke of needing a plan. Well, I would like to challenge him to put together a diverse working group to come up with a plan to cover indigent health care, which would include assistance to the safety net clinics, Nuestra Clinica del Valle, El Milagro, Hope and Desarollo Humano. Our Equal Voice Network Working Group would be more than happy to assist Commissioners Court with this, and I personally would like to see my own commissioner, Joseph Palacios, on that working group. I would hope that this group would fix the problems we have with Hidalgo County Clinical Services, Inc., and find a way to make health care available for more people.

We have to come up with something. I am tired of offering only a shoulder to cry on for our families who come into my office seeking resources for cancer treatment, dialysis, minor surgery. I am tired of seeking people trying to raise money for health treatments through barbeques. I am tired of seeing people die here because they have no insurance or money to pay for treatment. Maybe Mission Hospital should be a public hospital?

It is time we take seriously the challenge of the Texas Constitution – for the counties to provide health care for its indigents. It will be difficult, maybe impossible. I recall my Dad quoting a slogan the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had during World War 11: The difficult we can do, the impossible will take a little longer. Let’s get started now. People’s lives are at stake.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column is based largely on remarks given by Ann Cass at a Hidalgo County Commissioners Court meeting on Nov. 15, 2016. It appears with the consent of the author and the RGV Equal Voice Network.