“If you find yourself in a hole, then you stop digging,” said Rene Mascorro, county judge.
The commissioners court held a workshop after the regular meeting on Tuesday. The meeting was requested by Commissioner Ann Lopez to discuss Elderly Services’ plans to drop three dialysis patients off its transportation.
“It’s no secret this is an issue that needs our attention,” Mascorro said.
The judge said he wanted to go on record as saying it was never his intention to extend transportation for the duration of life-saving dialysis treatments until people can receive a kidney.
“If we continue, it could be for years,” he said.
A $55,000 shortfall in grant funding for Elderly Services was blamed for the department’s push to terminate transportation services to three of its 258 clients.
Robert McGuill, county attorney, told the court that, not so many years ago, they county “had no Elderly Services.”
“If you had no Elderly Services, how many people will you have to lay off,” asked Kenneth Wright, of the Hospital Board.
Eleven people will lose their jobs – two full time and the remaining part time, according to Edith Collins, director of Elderly Services.
“(Laying them off) is an option,” Collins said. “I don’t like it but it is an option.”
The department is currently working with a $266,442 budget, with $147,378 coming from grants and $97,759 from county taxpayers, according to Margie Moeller, county auditor.
Elderly Services received three private foundation donations for $5,000 each and one for $6,535. Collins is the only county employee who receives a percentage of the grants that are awarded.
“If we had to hire a person to write grants, that little percentage that Edith gets for writing them is small compared to what it costs us to write those grants,” said Commissioner Stanley Tuttle.
However, Moehr said that GrantWorks writes the larger federal and state grants for Elderly Services.
Tuttle said all the other departments had to tighten their belts whereas the Elderly Services budget continues to grow each year. To meet this year’s budget shortfall, Collins received an additional $25,755 from the commissioners court at the last meeting.
Louis Willeke, hospital administrator, said the county’s decision will set a precedent.
“We have to do more with a smaller amount of money,” Willeke said. “Our goal is to give the best patient care to everybody in this situation... this court has to look at what’s going to happen five years from now.”
Only the three dialysis patients of the 258 other residents served by the county received written notices that their transportation will cease.
Collins said each one signed an agreement that the service was only for two months; however, one patient has been transported for approximately five years.
“I think dialysis patients need to exhaust every avenue before they use the county — sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, church members — the two month policy, correct me if I’m wrong, is so you can get people lined up, ” Bourland said.
Dialysis patient Rita Ramirez told the court she that they are imprisoned by their illness and options are few.
“We’re on death row,” she said.
Ramirez also said that the dialysis patients are not the only ones in the vehicle.
“(Collins) still has other people going, so they’re going to go anyway,” Ramirez said. “If we were the only people, fine.”
Collins said she tries to coordinate trips. The judge pointed out that drivers take the dialysis patient to Victoria, then return to Refugio, then go back to Victoria to pick them up.
Under currently scheduling, drivers spend approximately four hours on the road per treatment.
In a weak voice that cracked intermittently, Fran Herring said she had exhausted a pool of 15 people.
“I wore them out,” Herring said. “They can’t do it anymore.”
She said nephews had driven from San Antonio to transport her to Victoria on July 4 when the county was off on a holiday.
“That’s what relatives are for,” Bourland said.
Veteran Service Officer Richard Sanchez told of his mother’s plight on dialysis and her bad experience riding with contract transportation services. After the exhausting treatment, often the rides went through several other towns before arriving home.
“They are worn out!” Sanchez said. “The buses go all over the area and all over the county before they drop them off.”
The Veterans Service Officer also suggested funding is available for transporting veterans.
Lopez also recounted the hardship of her own family’s dialysis treatment.
“We have to determine what the role of government is,” Mascorro said.
“Health is one of those,” Lopez said.
The judge reminded the commissioners that the court does not have jurisdiction to set Elderly Service policy... only over the budget.
“We will continue until Oct. 1,” Mascorro said. “That’s enough lead time to know what to expect.”