Federal funds flow to PCHS to expand coronavirus testing and care

FAR WEST TEXAS — The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is the gift that keeps on giving for Presidio and Brewster counties. The Preventative Care Health Services clinics are the recipients of another round of funding, this time adding $192,409 to their budget.

PCHS, sometimes known as Presidio County Health Services, was awarded $666,155 in early April to fight the novel coronavirus, and the new funds have been granted to expand coronavirus testing.

According to PCHS CEO Linda Molinar, the clinic’s testing is through the private lab Quest Diagnostics, “and they’re very limited. Presidio has the vial, not even the test,” Molinar said. Vials are used to transport patients’ samples to labs. “Alpine has a few, where Presidio has very little. It’s less than five in Presidio.”

While the state’s pop-up drive-through testing sites allow anyone to get tested, PCHS still says they have to screen patients for symptoms before determining if someone needs to be tested.

“We kind of go case by case,” Molinar said. If a patient is showing symptoms and needs to be tested, they will administer a test using one of the few vials they have. “It just takes a long time for the results to come in, about seven days, and at times ten days,” she added.

By the time a case is confirmed, the patient could be well on their way to recovery. “I think a lot of people have been quarantining in Presidio,” Molinar said. It’s a method doctors use to keep people who have symptoms separated from the community until they might recover.

“We don’t have that many tubes. Alpine had the most and they didn’t even have that many. If somebody needs it, we go ahead and do the test and hopefully Quest will replace it,” Molinar said.

These federal funds have been a huge help, according to the CEO, as coronavirus has slowed the number of patients at the clinics and pushed the company to use telemedicine. While the clinic normally has patients visit in person, “We’re doing medicare on the phone,” Molinar said, often meaning the clinic collects only $12 from medicare reimbursement. “The government is helping with the losses of the organization.”

Telemedicine helps prevent disease spread by keeping ill patients from using the same facilities. But it’s a big challenge for a small, rural clinic which needed help boosting its technology to meet these new needs.

Even with the mandate to expand testing, Molinar said the latest funds can be used to expand coronavirus care more generally. “A lot of it will be spent on technology, on telemedicine over phones and cameras.”

“It will help us buy PPE, but that’s hard to find,” Molinar said, even when the clinic has the money to spend on it. PPE is personal protective equipment like gloves, masks, gowns and face shields that protect healthcare workers from contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. “It’s hard to find any kind of mask or gloves, much less proper masks or shields,” Molinar said.

In Presidio, PCHS has added a shipping container clinic that keeps those with coronavirus symptoms entirely separate from the usual patients the clinic sees. They’ve already used funds to add a second nurse practitioner to the Presidio clinic. Molinar said, “Right now the biggest need has been mostly in Presidio because they’re so remote.”

“In order to most effectively combat the spread of this dangerous virus in Texas, our health centers must be equipped to test for COVID-19 efficiently,” said Senator John Cornyn in a statement announcing the newly available funds. “I’m thankful to the Trump Administration for further expanding access to testing in Marfa.”

The Texas Expanding Capacity for Coronavirus Testing Awards distributed $31,137,693 to support 72 health centers in Texas, with $192,409 of that making its way to the Big Bend.