November 15, 2023 559 PM
ALPINE — At Tuesday night’s meeting, the Big Bend Regional Hospital District (BBRHD) voted to award $25,000 to the Presidio Pregnancy Center (PPC), out of a roughly $100,000 pot of money allocated by the agency for programs to benefit local healthcare. The center is a crisis pregnancy center affiliated with CareNet, an evangelical, anti-abortion organization that funds crisis pregnancy centers nationwide. The Presidio project launched in September and is still seeking volunteers, funding and a physical office.
Though crisis pregnancy centers often advertise healthcare services, they are not staffed by healthcare professionals and often serve to dissuade women from seeking abortions. There are more than 2,500 crisis pregnancy centers in Texas, which has effectively banned abortion procedures within state lines. The Big Bend region represents a large gap — an empty triangle between clusters of these facilities in El Paso, Odessa and Del Rio.
The PPC is part of a new regional healthcare initiative called the “Big Bend Maternal Care Network” (BBMCN), established earlier this year. The coalition also includes the Big Bend Regional Medical Center and the Sul Ross State University School of Counseling. The network has been seeking grant funding to address gaps in maternal care, given that the tri-county area — and in particular, Presidio — is a majority minority region where many people live below the poverty line and without health insurance.
The BBMCN applied for grant funding from the federal Office of Minority Health and was denied based on a perceived lack of “data to establish need.” Newsom said that the coalition would refine its reporting and continue to seek funding. “We’re not done yet,” he said. “We’re going to keep looking for some other opportunities because there is a need and a huge gap in access to maternal health care in the region.”
BBRHD Executive Director JD Newsom acknowledged that the PPC could not provide healthcare services, but felt that the fledgling organization might be able to offer a “community based support network” for expectant mothers. He anticipated that the money would be used toward launching the organization’s physical location and services.
When asked about the PPC’s overt anti-abortion and evangelical agenda, Newsom responded by saying that funding organizations with explicitly religious missions is not uncommon in the healthcare industry. Because Lynette Brehm, the board president of the PPC, is both a hospital district employee and a volunteer board member, he was “very sensitive” to potential conflicts of interest.
Newsom stressed that the BBRHD’s medical enhancement grants were “reimbursement grants,” meaning that recipients had to budget and spend grant money ahead of time before funding could be approved. “If there’s something questionable, we’ve got the opportunity to say this is not part of the scope of the grant, and this is not something that the hospital district is going to pay for,” he said. “There’s a lot of built-in accountability there.”
Other grant recipients included Terlingua ISD and the Sunshine House senior center in Alpine, receiving $4,226 and $15,000, respectively. The board still has around $55,000 to award to potential grant recipients.
The board voted to table proposals by the City of Presidio for safer flooring materials at the Presidio Activity Center gym and for a recruitment program to bring new physicians to the Marfa Country Clinic. Those proposals will likely be revisited at January’s board meeting.
A previous version of this story included an illustration of the Big Bend Regional Medical Center which is not the Big Bend Regional Hospital District. We regret the error.