Shipping container clinic arrives in Presidio

PRESIDIO — While the Big Bend region faces challenges with access to healthcare from time to time, those in Presidio and the smaller outlying towns are more acutely aware of just how far care can sometimes be. This week, Preventative Care Health Services, whose Presidio clinic and dentist office is located at 1501 N Erma Avenue, received a boost in facilities. A program out of Texas A&M delivered a shipping container, outfitted to provide additional clinic space for coronavirus testing.

Oscar Muñoz, director of the Colonias Program at A&M, coordinated between A&M departments to bring the Presidio clinic to fruition. While students in A&M’s “BUILD” program have been outfitting shipping container clinics for a while, they have typically been shipping these across the globe, from Costa Rica to Iraq. But Muñoz –– whose program studies Texas neighborhoods that lack many basic utilities –– entered a plea to BUILD.

“They continued to build these clinics and were sending them abroad until we asked if we could be the recipients of the clinics to serve colonias. So far we’ve received two: one is in Laredo and the other in Presidio,” he said in a phone call this week.

Pema Garcia oversees the western portion of the program, and partnered with the regional hospital to coordinate the different service providers that are going to be using the clinic. “Even though Presidio has a health clinic, this unit can help provide additional services, or it can be put on a trailer to be able to provide health access to the smaller communities around Presidio like Candelaria or Terlingua.”

According to Garcia, the hospital already has plans to use the Presidio clinic for coronavirus testing, but even once that project is over, Muñoz says they are going to continue to use the clinic for many other projects.

The container in Presidio has been delivered and assigned to Dr. Billings of PCHS, Garcia said. When PCHS was reached for comment about the shipping container’s opening date, beginning of testing and which PCHS staff will work at the container, spokesperson Sarah Vasquez simply said, “All that is to be determined.”

“It’s taken a lot of people to make this come to fruition where we’ll have mini-clinics providing much needed services to much needed populations. None of us could have done this by ourselves, without the contribution of other groups. It’s across different campuses and different A&M organizations,” Muñoz said.

The container, placed behind the clinic on North Erma Avenue, is designed to have two patient bays, some sink space for cleaning up and decontaminating, and an office in the back. The entire space is 40 feet long and comes equipped with a generator, an air conditioner and options to connect to running water.

According to Garcia, PCHS’ plan was to first use it as a testing location so they wouldn’t have to test potential patients in the regular clinic, and then, if need be, the space could become a “dirty decontamination location” because it is a separate entity from the clinic. “In the future when the pandemic is over, there’s many different uses the hospital district can use it for,” Garcia said.