Established during World War II, the Paris-Lamar County Health District offers a wide array of public health services to local people.
“If you don’t know much about the health district, you should check us out,” said Gina Prestridge, executive director of the P-LCHD. “There are a lot of services available here at reasonable prices, but as long as we’ve been here, there are a lot of people who still don’t know what we do.”
The health district building is at 400 W. Sherman St., in a spacious modern building quite unlike the cramped place the district occupied until 2013.
In April 1, 2014, the health district signed an interlocal agreement with the Paris City Council and Lamar County Commissioners, making the health district its own entity.
“The health district is not controlled by the council and the commissioners,” Prestridge said. “The health district is controlled by its own board of directors. The city and the county is kept abreast of what we are doing, and I send them regular reports but the approval process does not go through them now. They still contribute to our funding and we continue to serve the people of the county, but we are a stand-alone entity for the first time since 1944.”
The P-LCHD is one of only a handful of health departments in Texas that have such a broad variety of services, including medical care such as immunizations, pre-natal care, family planning, and care of non-emergency or chronic medical conditions, lab work, screening and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, nutrition programs and sanitary inspections. It also provides environmental services such as water testing, restaurant and food truck inspections, public pool inspections, septic tank inspections, TB testing, physicals for health workers and student athletes and educational resources on the control of infectious vectors like mosquitoes.
The district’s primary care clinic charges $30 for an office visit and is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays, except for holidays. It is staffed by the district’s medical director, Dr. Amanda Green; a nurse practitioner; and a physician’s assistant.
The P-LCHD also employs an epidemiologist; two registered nurses; a medical assistant; a patient navigator, Emily Neeley, who helps people figure out what the need and how much they are qualified to received from each program; and a billing clerk, who recently concluded an eight-year struggle to get the district designated as a recipient of Medicaid reimbursements. Prestridge said they could start accepting patients with Medicaid as early as this fall.
Payments are currently accepted through Medicare, Moncrief, Healthy Texas Woman, the county indigent fund, private payment and many private insurance companies. No patients under the age of 12 are accepted for treatment.
About 530 patients came through the clinic in January, according to the clinic’s records, seeking everything from immunization to lab work, STD treatments, birth control, chronic disease management and pregnancy testing. In February, more than 1,100 clients sought WIC services and almost 500 came to the medical clinic.
“The health department is a fully functioning medical clinic that provides primary health care to a vast array of individuals in the community,” Prestridge said. “Nearly 70 percent of our patients pay through private insurances or out of their own pocket. Everyone is welcome. If they want good, high quality health care, we have great providers, a great staff, we work with all the pharmacies in town and we have great rapport with the community.”
Reports on the district’s food safety inspections are available on the web site, parislamarhealth.com. Complaints are investigated within 24 hours.
“If you don’t see a grade posted at the entrance to a restaurant, or visible on a food truck, they need to call us,” Prestridge said. “We need to know so we can make sure they get a permit.”
Controlling mosquitoes, which can carry sometimes fatal diseases like West Nile virus, are now being handled by the city of Paris, which is concentrating its efforts on ways proven to be more effective than the traditional fogging along city streets.
“Spraying is not effective,” Prestridge said. “Larvacides, which kill the insects’ larvae before they start flying and biting, are what we are doing now. The city is using dunks and granules to treat standing water where the eggs are laid before they hatch and become a source of possible contagion. We partner with them to get answer questions and educate people on the issue, but they are the boots on the ground in that fight.”
According to Prestridge, the health district is working more and more these days to redirect its efforts to illness prevention, using grant monies to hire personnel for programs aimed at adult nutrtion and obesity prevention, chronic disease self management, worksite wellness programs and tobacco cessation programs.
“In light of current events — the reappearance of what was thought to be eradicated diseases — we are planning to do some public education on the importance of vaccinations,” Prestridge said. “Immunization is a huge preventable disease component of the health department job.”
Prestridge said the P-LCHD will be concentrating on the concept of health prevention.
“There is still a lot of unhealthy behavior out there in the community,”she said, “but there are a lot of things we could be working on to prevent chronic diseases in the future. I hope to see us hiring more community health workers and putting boots on the ground out in the community, working on the environment and on policy changes that will shift the paradigm and make Paris and Lamar County a healthier community.”