November 2, 2022 554 PM
TRI-COUNTY — The Alpine Public Library recently received a $9,200 grant from the Big Bend Regional Hospital District to develop a web-based community resource directory for tri-county citizens that will help match an individual’s needs — including healthcare — with the requisite services.
The formation of the directory will begin in earnest in the new year and, if all goes according to plan, will be ready for public use by summer of 2023, according to Don Wetterauer, the library’s executive director, who said they welcome feedback as they get the service off the ground.
“We are open for suggestions — things that people would want to include,” he said. “We want to try to make it as comprehensive as we can.”
In addition to area healthcare providers, the directory may also include contact information for local food pantries, family crisis centers, legal aid, transportation services and more. Wetterauer said the primary goal is to simply connect those in need with entities that can provide help — something that could prove useful for locals and visitors alike. The initiative is just one example of how rural libraries act as hubs for information, said Wetterauer.
“I hope that people think that the library is a place where they can come and get good, accurate information,” said Wetterauer.
Dr. Adrian Billings of Preventative Care Health Services (PCHS) said the community resource directory will provide services that, in a more urbanized area, would typically be found through a social worker. However, he’s not aware of a licensed social worker operating in the area in his 16-plus-years of practicing healthcare in the Big Bend region, he said, so the library is stepping up to fill a critical need.
“[It’s] really a very kind and generous donation of their time, sweat equity and efforts to put something like this together for healthcare resources in the Big Bend,” said Billings.
The BBRHD grant will, in part, go toward hiring a resource investigator who will take on the task of developing the human services listings. The library will then plan semi-annual reviews of the information to ensure everything is up to date, said Wetterauer. “We all realize there’s no point in doing this if we’re not going to keep it accurate and up to date,” he said.
The directory will be tailored to resources in the tri-county area, and likely include listings from Fort Stockton, Midland-Odessa and El Paso. The library may also opt to provide a printed resource, or guidebook, but sees the online platform as better able to adapt over time, said Wetterauer. The Alpine Public Library plans to reach out to other local libraries to train their staff on the directory so that citizens may come into their respective library branch to access computers and get help locating resources.
The idea to develop a community resource directory was born out of the library’s previous initiative to host a community read-along where participants read The Plague Year: America in the Time of COVID by Lawrence Wright. The library hosted an accompanying forum where locals discussed healthcare needs in the region, with local healthcare providers present.
One of the realizations that came out of the conversation, said Wetterauer, was that people were unaware of who to contact for certain needs and often had a difficult time getting in touch with the right people.
“We’re kind of listed as a healthcare desert, as far as health services, because of our lack of resources and the distance from here to other places where you can get more comprehensive medical care,” said Wetterauer. “People realized that there were things they could do, but they had no clue.”
The Alpine Public Library will likely partner with the San Antonio Community Resource Directory (SACRD), a nonprofit operating a similar online service in the greater San Antonio area founded in 2019. Bill Neely, executive director of SACRD, said the organization currently has around 8,500 resources listed from 1,850 organizations and averages around 6,000 to 7,000 visitors per week, the majority being case managers, social workers and more.
SACRD also operates a mental health portal — which includes a “guided interview” to help individuals discover the right solutions for them — and is in the process of launching an apartment finder. Wetterauer said the tri-county resource directory may not initially offer a housing locator, but could be expanded to do so in the future. Neely said in order to be successful the platform must have support on the local level from medical districts, government offices, religious organizations and more.
“Public awareness and trust of the platform is always an issue in any community,” said Neely. “The supporting coalition will need to tap into the various networks of trust in the area and invite them to get to know the platform and recommend it to their constituents.”
Neely said anticipated challenges relating to creating a community resource directory for the tri-county area include a possible low resource count and how the site’s proximity feature may be utilized.
“Long distances between people and resources are to be assumed, but the specifics of how this will affect the maps are yet to be known,” said Neely. “I don’t expect it to be an issue technically, but we will see if users are happy to receive information about a service 100 miles away.”
For Billings, the need for a community resource directory underscores how healthcare entities in the tri-county area are under-resourced — citizens of the region are often seeking support with everything from mental health to long-term assisted care, he said.
“Medicine is more and more specialized, urbanized and centralized and that kind of leaves our rural health care workforce under-resourced.” said Billings. “This is not to say anything bad of the healthcare systems in the Big Bend, it’s just that we are a consequence of the national healthcare system not, in my opinion, really prioritizing rural healthcare.”
He said he is fully supportive of the initiative and sees it as an important example of multiple institutions coming together to meet community needs. “For them to come into the healthcare information spectrum is really great and generous. I think it’s really what is needed to provide the best and more robust healthcare in the Big Bend.”