City of Presidio taps new EMS medical director, receives major healthcare grant 

PRESIDIO — Healthcare topped the docket at Presidio City Council Monday evening, where councilmembers voted to appoint a new medical director for the city’s EMS department and received news from the Big Bend Regional Hospital District that the city has been awarded a sizable grant devoted to improving healthcare services. 

Ivan Becerra, an emergency medicine fellow at Texas Tech University’s Health Sciences Center in the Permian Basin, attended the meeting to make his case for a position as the city’s new EMS medical director. Afterwards, council voted to approve his appointment, though the city will still need to draw up and finalize his contract.

According to the Texas Medical Board, an EMS medical director is a licensed physician who helps design and implement training for EMTs and helps advise the department on administrative issues. The position can be served remotely. 

“This is my first visit, and I’d like to spend more time here,” Becerra said. Becerra lives in Austin and regularly commutes to the Permian Basin as a part of his fellowship. He was trained as a family medicine physician with a sub-specialty in rural medicine, carrying out his residency in Fort Stockton and Odessa. 

“I think I’d be a good fit,” Becerra said. “Some of the things I’d like to focus on would be updating protocols and streamlining workflow, to try and make decisions easier for our EMS personnel to follow and render better care for patients.” 

He also emphasized the need for community education and paramedicine — a topic that’s come up before in trying to prioritize the city’s healthcare needs. 

“Oftentimes, people aren’t sure about when it’s appropriate to call EMS, and that comes with added costs. I know many of you guys probably have family members with health problems and have been unsure, since they’re further away from larger hospitals that can render care,” Becerra said. 

Newly sworn-in councilmember Steven “Nicky” Alvarez appreciated all the research Becerra had put into his presentation. “I think what struck me was that you’re trying to create a pipeline of locals that perhaps can get certified in the process,” he said. 

Councilmember Joe Andy Mendoza agreed. “What I liked was the part about updating protocols for transportation to make it more efficient. We’ve heard a lot of numbers about call times so I am very, very happy to see that you’ll be looking at that and tailoring it to our community,” he said. 

The department has seen its ups and downs over the past few years — after a long struggle to secure a new ambulance, new fleet vehicles were picked up last month. Former EMS director Malynda Richardson was transferred to City Hall to serve as a finance specialist, and current director Troy Sparks stepped up to take her place. 

“In order to move this service forward and in a new direction, [Becerra] is gonna bring tools and resources that  we currently haven’t had during COVID, so I think this is definitely the right step forward,” Sparks said. 

After Becerra’s presentation, J.D. Newsom of the Big Bend Regional Hospital District took the floor to provide an update almost eight months in the making: the city had been tapped to receive the USDA’s emergency rural healthcare grant. The $5.5 million dollar package, which will include match funding from Presidio County, was designed in hopes of revolutionizing healthcare in Presidio. 

“It will be a couple of weeks before it’s official-official, but I’m coming to tell you today that the grant is going to happen, and it’s going to be very transformative for Presidio,” Newsom explained. 

The two “prongs” of the healthcare grant will go to funding an after-hours healthcare clinic in Presidio and to establishing a community paramedicine program. “Community paramedicine programs will train paramedics to go out into the communities and make house calls to help people manage those chronic medical conditions, so that the poor are able to manage chronic health problems without calling EMS. It’s going to provide some really meaningful long term health impacts,” he said. 

Presidio faced stiff competition for the funding. “What’s incredible is there was a national competition,” Newsom explained. “What I initially heard was that we were the only grant from Texas that made the cut to DC. Now we’re at the finish line, which is really a testament to the need in Presidio and also a testament to the strength of the consortium forming to tackle this problem.”