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San Antonio

Bexar County Commissioners Approve University Health Budget, Hear Update On Vaccine Distribution

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Ryan Loyd | Texas Public Radio
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Bexar County Courthouse

Bexar County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a more than $2.1 billion 2021 budget for University Health, which will spearhead the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine.

University Health CEO George Hernandez believes front-line medical workers, first responders and those at high risk will receive the vaccine by the end of December pending federal approval.

The general public would soon follow.

“We think probably towards the end of the first quarter, they’ll be the general public that doesn’t fit into either of those categories,” Hernandez said.

He added University Health will distribute the two-dose vaccine from 27 locations. A computer system will be used to track who receives which vaccine because the time between doses depends on the brand received.

Pfizer and Moderna both are both seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration early this month to distribute their vaccines.

In his UH report Hernandez also said:

  • About 123,000 telehealth consultations were held between April and October of this year due to patients’ fears about clinic settings.
  • The new Women’s and Children’s Tower is on schedule to open in early 2023
  • Several UH clinics around the city have been recently renovated and others will undergo upgrades in 2021.
  • There is room in the budget for merit raises for the 9,000 employees working for UH.
  • Surgeries and in-hospital stays dropped dramatically during the pandemic, but Hernandez believes net patient revenue will grow again in 2021. As surgeries dipped, hospital staff and resources were redeployed to combat the virus and no layoffs were required.

In other action before commissioners, residents of the East Side Jasper Mobile Home Park, including some who are disabled, accused Bexar County Commissioners of delegating COVID-19 relief funds to help them, but not following up on the effectiveness of the spending.

The residents said while the county set aside funds to help them move out of the trailer park, they need even more direct assistance to do so.

County Judge Nelson Wolff directed staff to get more involved.

“This mobile home park is a hell hole — it had numerous fines, violations,” Wolff said.

Also stressing the theme of accountability on spending was Commissioner Tommy Calvert, who said the county’s $1 million to Haven For Hope, a homeless shelter, may have been better spent on buying a hotel to house the homeless instead.

“The effort of Haven For Hope on the homeless right now is inadequate. We have 18 homeless camps that we have just counted in my precinct,” he said.

Calvert said there are other homeless camps off Vance Jackson in Precinct 2, off Blanco Road in Precinct 3, and underneath I-35 at Theo/Malone in Precinct 1.

Calvert called for more accountability of the county’s nonprofit partners in the future.

In other action, commissioners approved $1.1 million in COVID-19 relief funds to assist local bars, restaurants and other struggling small businesses. All of the $79 million given to the county under the federal CARES Act to combat the virus has been allocated.

Commissioners also voted on Tuesday to create the county military and veteran services foundation.

Funds raised by the non-profit will benefit county veterans services.

Karen Rolirad, who heads the county’s military and veterans services center, said the foundation can be another source of revenue to fund the center’s mission of connecting veterans with benefits and with jobs after their military service ends.

“We have helped people who leave the military actually recreate themselves,” she said. “A lot of people feel whatever you did in the military is what you want to do in civilian life and that is a misnomer.”

Rolirad said 4,000 service members transition out of the military locally every year. About 21% of San Antonio’s 18+ population are retired or active service members.

Commissioners also heard an update on the installation of an LTE network to boost virtual learning at home in the Southwest Independent School District. It should be completed by Dec. 4 and then undergo a test run.

The wireless signal network is taking advantage of a tall water tower to beam into homes.

Students from Elm Creek Elementary and McNair Middle School are among those participating in the pilot project

Judge Wolff said if the test run is successful it could be used in other South Side school districts where the digital divide in the county between wealthier and poorer school districts grew even more apparent as students were sent home and expected to learn.

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