Dr. Escovar exits Brewster County health authority position

For some residents, Brewster County health authority Ekta Escovar has been a calm and evidence-based voice throughout the coronavirus crisis, a homegrown version of Dr. Anthony Fauci.

BREWSTER COUNTY — Dr. Ekta Escovar, the health authority for Brewster County, has resigned her position “effective immediately,” Brewster County officials said Monday in a news release.

The news release, which came from Brewster County Judge Eleazar Cano, thanked Escovar for her “excellent job” throughout “these difficult past few months during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We thank Dr. Ekta Escovar for her service to Brewster County and wish her well on her future endeavors!” the news release stated.

Escovar, a pediatrician at Big Bend Regional Medical Center, was appointed as local health authority earlier this year. The unpaid position, coupled with her hospital connections, made her a leading voice for coronavirus updates and status reports in the Big Bend region.

Escovar leaned into that role, giving regular presentations at meetings of the Alpine City Council and the Brewster County Commissioners Court. As a result, for some residents she’s been a calm and evidence-based voice throughout the coronavirus crisis, a homegrown version of Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Escovar offered the region early warnings on coronavirus. At a virtual Marfa City Council meeting in April, Escovar noted that the Big Bend region was short on medical resources and warned residents to stay vigilant. Within months, Alpine doctors would start sending their first serious coronavirus patients to hospitals in Midland and Odessa.

“Overreacting and being alarmist now is going to save lives,” Escovar said at that meeting. To truly slow the spread of coronavirus, the region was looking at “months of social distancing — true, true social distancing.”

Escovar’s role as a leading public health watchdog in the area made her unpopular with those who oppose shutdowns, mask requirements and other coronavirus precautions. First, there was J.P. Bryant, owner of the Gage Hotel in Marathon, who sued Brewster County — and then Judge Cano personally — over the county’s temporary short-term rental bans.

Those lawsuits, which were primarily aimed at Judge Cano and county commissioners, never named Escovar as a party. But lawyers for Bryant nonetheless criticized the doctor, writing in court filings that she was expressing “personal fears … without any scientific support” and “should not be regarded as an expert.”

Then, in May, Escovar became the target of a social media controversy after parents of some of her pediatric patients said she’d dropped them. Those parents said they thought Escovar had stopped seeing their children because they opposed coronavirus precautions. As a doctor at a private clinic, Escovar can choose patients at her discretion.

But Art Martinez de Vara, a lawyer for one of the parents, nonetheless accused her of violating civil-rights laws. He said it was “very bad practice” to “deny a child health care because of the parent’s political stance” and filed a medical board complaint. BBRMC put out a statement saying it was “committed” to local patient care but declined to address the criticisms of Escovar, citing the legal dispute. As the story gained traction, many residents jumped to her defense, posting social media comments of their own in support of Escovar.

By press time this week, Escovar did not respond to questions about why she decided to resign or what her future plans are. Judge Cano also did not respond by press time when asked whether any other candidates had stepped forward to take on the role of local health authority.

Under Texas law, local health authorities are appointed by the officials of the local government body they work for. In this case, that means Brewster County commissioners court will likely find her replacement. At press time, it’s unclear when commissioners will discuss the topic.