LUBBOCK, Texas – Before Lubbock Health Department Director Katherine Wells took over local public health in 2015, the city had already considered shutting down its public health operations entirely.
With only ten employees, the department has barely managed to provide vaccines, research and other public health services for the Southern Plains region. It took a group of people “on their feet at the last minute” to save him.
In the six years since Ms. Wells took office, the department has quintupled and increased its budget exponentially. Starting his tenure in 2015 with a budget of around $ 1 million, Wells now heads a health department with a budget of nearly $ 10 million.
“I really wanted to develop public health in Lubbock and… get to a point where the health service would be effective and be able to really make a difference in the community,” said Director Wells.
Yet with growth comes growing pains. Wells says their operation has grown too big for their building, and it is clear from a short tour of their facilities that they are waging a war on COVID with very little ammunition.
Vaccine refrigerators share a room with the photocopier. Nurses house their cramped desks in the same room where they treat patients. The “pharmacy,” as Ms. Wells affectionately calls it, consists of pill bottles stuffed into a miniature filing cabinet.
“We don’t fit here anymore,” Wells said. “He does not have the adequate clinical space to provide mass vaccinations or provide other clinical care. We also have duplicate people in the offices, and that’s not a good use of space. So I have been really advocating for a new public health building for a few years now. “
This year, Wells made his wish come true.
The city and county are investing $ 11 million in a brand new public health facility, in part thanks to the combined $ 116 million in federal funds the region is receiving as part of the US bailout.
“With the pandemic and with the opportunity of these ARPA funds, I think we can move faster,” Wells said.
His department is also proposing the creation of a new public health district to centralize services between the city and the county.
The proposal would change the composition of the Public Health Council in the city charter. Currently, the nine representatives are appointed by the city council. This combined public health district would include 6 city appointees and add 3 county commissioner court appointed representatives.
According to a presentation by the city on November 19, the new district would “formalize and strengthen the local public health system, increase the services available in the county, [and] improve partnerships with schools.
“I’m really excited to work with the county and create this county health district where everyone in the county, whether you live in town or in one of our smaller municipalities, you will have access to the same level of health. public. services, ”Wells said.
Wells estimates it will be another 12 to 18 months before the Department of Health moves into its new building, and the city and county must both give final approval to the reimagined public health district. Wells is optimistic, however, that these measures will better meet the public health needs of everyone in Lubbock County in the future.
“I see us as the way to bring everyone together,” she said. “And that’s what I’m hoping, having this new building and the title of health district, will really start to bring that together – for the people of Lubbock and the people in our communities outside. “