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Coronavirus Threatens Strained Rural Health Care System

Coronavirus Threatens Strained Rural Health Care System

If you’re exhibiting coronavirus symptoms and meet the criteria, you should get tested.

But if you live in rural Presidio County, on the western end of the Texas-Mexico border, be prepared to travel. County residents who are severely ill are being told to go to Big Bend Regional Center in Alpine, Texas, which is nearly 90 miles away from the city of Presidio. The hospital will stabilize those patients before sending them nearly 200 miles to El Paso, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

Patients in the region seeking test results should be prepared to wait. The 25-bed hospital in Alpine takes samples and sends them to the nearest testing site, also in El Paso. Those tests are reported in a day or two. Three local clinics also have a handful of coronavirus tests, but those are taken by a courier to El Paso on weekdays, and then flown across the state to a lab in Dallas. The turnaround time is three to four days, said Dr. Adrian Billings, with Preventative Care Health Services in Alpine.

“People who live out here in West Texas, we’re used to it,” said Gary Mitschke, emergency management coordinator of Presidio County. “If you don’t have 100 miles — well, you really haven’t gotten anywhere.”

As in the rest of the country, most of Texas’ coronavirus cases have been in its largest cities, including Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. But the virus is moving toward less populated areas.

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Case Studies

I’m pleased because I don’t have to make a 4 ½-hour drive to get my infusion. It’s great that we can now have the therapy that I needed right here.


I’m very fortunate and so grateful for everything the center does for me. The wait is short and I’m in and out in no time. Without this local service, I couldn’t keep my job. I wouldn’t be able to take care of my family or enjoy my life.

CIS Rural Patient

They monitored me, they took care of me. The infection that was causing the pain began to go away. I can tell you now I’m able to stand on both legs. After the infusion therapy, I was able to resume the activity that I truly enjoy, playing the guitar and exploring the wonders of music.


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