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Bexar County commissioners create department focused on preventative health, receive elder abuse update

Bexar County Courthouse
Brian Kirkpatrick
Texas Public Radio
Bexar County Courthouse

Bexar County commissioners last week created a new county agency to get local residents in better health and better prepared for the next pandemic.

The Department of Health and Environmental Services will be funded with $2 million from federal COVID relief funds. A major preventative care messaging campaign is expected from the new department. Local health officials report 71% of local residents were found to be either overweight or obese in recent years.

Commissioners approved the hiring of three new staffers, including a public health director, to lead the county department, which could start up in half-a-year or after the next county budget cycle.

Bexar County Manager David Smith proposed the new department, which he said brings together existing county departments related to health and the environment. County officials said the pandemic unmasked flaws in the county's approach to public health.

Judge Nelson Wolff said preventative care could have spared many lives during the pandemic.

"Over 5,300 and some odd of our citizens died from COVID-19 and most of them had underlying health conditions," Wolff said.

Conditions like heart and lung disease, obesity, and diabetes which largely could have been prevented through healthier lifestyles.

Commissioners also approved a proclamation to declare June Elder Abuse Prevention Month. Samantha Hernandez, a local unit supervisor of the Texas Department of Adult Protect Services, told commissioners Bexar County has a high rate of elder abuse.

"In 2021, Bexar County adult protective service staff received 10,082 reports of abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation. Bexar County continues to receive the second highest number of abuse, neglect, and exploitation reports in the state," she said.

Statewide, Hernandez said more than 100,000 older Texans were victims.

Elder abuse can be reported to a statewide hotline at 1-800-252-5400.

Commissioners have beefed up funding for the district attorney to better prosecute crimes against the elderly.

Commissioners also approved two major road projects on opposite ends of the county totaling nearly $4.5 million.

Most of that funding will be spent on improving a flood prone stretch of Pearsall Road near McNair Middle School in Southwest Bexar County.

The county's Director of Public Works Renee Green told commissioners it will make the roadway safer for school traffic.

"That particular area is where Elm Creek crosses, and so it's a low water crossing now and subject to flooding. We're going to replace the existing culverts with a 200-foot long bridge class structure," she said.

The other approved road project involves safety improvements to the intersection at Borgfeld Drive and Kinder Parkway at the Kinder Ranch home development in far North Bexar County.

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