Life often takes surprise twists as we start out in one direction only to find ourselves doing something completely different. That is what has happened in Lubbock, Texas in response to an attempt by the city government to dismantle the Public Health Department.
This is the story of how people can make a difference. A simple desire to serve the community became a struggle to save essential services for the citizens of Lubbock, Texas. While much remains to be seen as to the ultimate success in providing these services to the citizens, this is a recollection of the first steps of a larger movement that came about unexpectedly.
In March of 2010, I was appointed to the City of Lubbock Board of Health. I had wanted to serve in some form of public affairs. When a vacancy came open on the Board, I sought nomination. To my surprise, my nomination was supported with a 7-0 vote by the City Council.
For the remainder of 2010 through the first half of 2011, the Board meetings were uneventful. Then, just before our July 2011 Board meeting, I was contacted by a friend who worked at city hall and he asked what I thought about the impending motion by the city manager to strip out services from the health department which would effectively close the department.
I, along with the other members of the Board were shocked to hear of this effort, as we had not been appraised of any part of what was being proposed. The local media reported that the mayor had stated that the programs were going to be discontinued because of reductions in grant funding, but that he believed this was acceptable because "other providers would be picking up the services." This was the first shot fired in what would become the position of the city that "we don't have the money" as the reason for closing the department. The city manager and mayor further refined their argument at the first of August as they outlined that their proposal was based not only on the loss of funding in public health services but also because the building out of which the Health Dept operated was a "tired old car dealership that was too costly to repair and was underutilized."
When the Board looked at the "facts" behind their allegation, we found that the data did not match the city's argument. The Board voted on a resolution recommending action for the city and county to consider.
1) The Board wanted to examine the entire spectrum of services being reviewed and not be limited to the three of STD management, immunization, and surveillance
2) We recommended adoption of a 90-day delay of action to permit study of the issues.
At that point, I began what became an almost daily email campaign to keep the public and media updated on what was happening in this matter. On Thursday, August 25, 2011 the City Council held their regular meeting, and they faced a crowded room in the chambers that morning at 7:30 a.m. The meeting lasted well into the afternoon with the council finally agreeing to delay any action for the requested 90 days. The council did ignore the broader request to review all services and narrowed the focus of review to only sexually transmitted disease services, immunizations, and surveillance. This limitation allowed the city manager to move forward with the dismantling of the other services such as the bio-terrorism lab, vital records, food service inspection, vector control and laboratory services and transfer them to other entities.
With the help of Dr. Linda Brice and Sharon Robinson from the Medical Alliance of the County Medical Society, we held the first meeting of the "Health Coalition of Lubbock" at the medical school educational building on Thursday, September 22nd. This first meeting attracted about 20 people and was the start of what would become the only formidable opponent to those who wanted to close public health services in Lubbock.
The independent coalition initiated an online and hard copy petition to collect signatures from citizens to demonstrate the citizens' wishes to keep the health department open. Over the next six weeks we collected over 6,000 signatures. This petition was clearly the heart of our success. The mayor and some on the council noted their disapproval of the petition effort, which revealed how effective it had been.
Then the evidence of how bad a decision to close the department would be occurred in early September when over 7,700 patrons of a local restaurant were exposed to Hepatitis A. Lacking staff resources, the city had to deputize other first responders in the city (i.e., paramedics, firemen) and hire agency nurses to manage the emergency vaccination program. Even with this extra help, only about 2,500 vaccinations were administered. If this would have turned into an actual epidemic, there would have been a need to track down over 5,000 people who were exposed. Fortunately, no report of disease outbreak was reported. This would have been extremely difficult if there would have been an actual outbreak and the public took note of this fact....
Brother Carr's work would pay off, and the outreach from the community was enough to sway the opinion of those in power. On October 21, 2011, with his language included in the proposal to not transfer out any health services and not move the Department of Health from a centralized location, the resolution passed and the efforts were rewarded. You can learn more here. After his successful campaign, he reflected:
It is refreshing to take pause and reflect on what we accomplished. The mayor and city manager thought so little of our Board and the citizens of Lubbock that they were dismissive of any efforts to promote public health in Lubbock . When challenged, some of the members of the city leadership resorted to personal insults and a refusal to acknowledge the scientific evidence that mounted against their position. It was only with the sustained effort from a dedicated group that a successful counter-argument was raised.
My final comment to the Council (at the meeting on October 21) was not heard because the resolution passed before my opportunity to address the assembled crowd that was present at city hall last Thursday. I would have liked to have had the chance.
Family is Important
My uncle, Warlick Carr, would offer these words as we prayed at family gatherings.
"Father, help us to do right even when those around us do wrong."
Lubbock is my birthplace.
My parents live here.
My brother, sister and I were born here.
I was married here.
My children were raised here.
I see myself being buried here.
In this community of Lubbock, we are all family, without notice to color, religion, or sports affiliation.
We must care for family, from a tiny infant to the most senior.
This issue of health and how it is provided is about family.
We must care.
We must look after their wellness.
And we should not care what it costs.
We should not care what it takes to do the right thing, because we are family.
We will not be silent and let any of our family suffer.
We will not surrender when others resist and cry out "no money" for care for our family.
Right is right. We are Americans. We are Texans.
I want to boast again "Lucky me, I live in Lubbock" where we care for family.
Today is the day to stand firm for family.
I love my family.