As COVID-19 spread throughout Central Texas last month, Central Health, the local health care district, temporarily closed some of its smaller CommUnityCare clinics to consolidate services and conserve personal protective equipment during the pandemic.
The move drew criticism from members of the community who felt the clinics being taken away — most of which were in Eastern Travis County — were in already underserved and vulnerable areas.
Now, Central Health says it’s reopening some of these health centers and expanding drive-thru testing in that part of the county to ensure people of color aren’t disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
CommUnityCare’s Hornsby Bend Health Center is reopening Wednesday, and its Del Valle Health Center will reopen next week, Central Health President and CEO Mike Geeslin said in a newsletter Tuesday. The health centers in Manor and Community First! Village have plans to reopen, too, he wrote, but a date was not given.
“CommUnityCare will continue to work to open more clinics as long as there is available staff and adequate PPE to protect patients and employees,” he wrote.
In a video call last week with members of the community, Geeslin said the clinics were closed to conserve PPE and to encourage social distancing. He said in these smaller, single-provider clinics it’s difficult to maintain space between people.
“We didn’t want the smaller facilities turning into hotspots that ultimately exacerbate the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
Geeslin also said the clinics were set up as temporary solutions for communities in Eastern Travis County and weren’t established to provide care during an emergency like this.
“These were very difficult decisions,” he said, noting some of the clinics, like the one in Hornsby Bend, had just opened up. “They were made with patient safety in mind.”
During a question-and-answer portion of the video call, some members of the community said with the closures, Central Health is retreating from people who need them most — communities of color — and noted many people in these areas don’t have internet access and therefore can’t access telehealth services online.
An April 2 report from UT’s Institute for Health Policy mapped areas of Austin that are at the highest risk of developing severe COVID-19 cases to identify where the greatest need for health care will likely be. Researchers looked at the distribution of underlying health conditions among the population, as well as income levels. They found that areas that had both the highest prevalence of risk factors and the highest financial need are predominantly in East Austin.
Geeslin said Central Health is using that report and feedback from the community to guide where it should focus efforts during this health crisis.
It plans to expand drive-up COVID-19 testing to different communities in Eastern Travis County like Manor, Colony Park, Austin’s Colony/Hornsby Bend, Del Valle and Dove Springs on a rotating basis.
CommUnityCare announced in a press release Wednesday that it plans to begin the rotation Thursday in Del Valle. Drive-up testing will take place at Southeast Metroplitan Park from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Friday, the testing will be at Barbara Jordan Elementary School in Colony Park from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A more complete schedule of drive-up testing sites will be made available once more locations are secured, CommUnityCare said.
CommUnityCare’s drive-thru testing site at Hancock Center on 41st Street and I-35 is already open six days a week. People do not need an appointment, insurance or payment for CommUnityCare testing.
This post has been updated.
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