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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Health Fair’s turnout down, but lines long

With so many things happening in Pecos this weekend, the Reeves County Health Fair still turned out to be a success, organizers said, with lines stretching out into the front of the building early in the morning for low-cost testing.

Other events, including the opening of the Pecos Little League baseball season and the annual Pecos High School Band Boosters auction, also were taking place on Saturday, during the six hours the health fair was taking place.

“We didn’t have quite the turnout we had last year, but I think it’s because there were three other major things happening in the community this past weekend,” said Public Relations Director for Reeves County Hospital Venetta Seals.

Seals said that there were 60 vendors from Pecos and the surrounding communities at the annual event providing vital health information and health care.

“There were some vendors that didn’t like the location we set them up in, but its just happens that way sometimes,” said Seals.

Seals said that the eye testing booth and the EKG’s were very popular at the this year’s health fair.

“We tried to space the vendors that were providing a service with those who just had an informational booth, so that they would all receive some traffic,” said Seals. “Overall, I think everyone was pretty pleased with this year’s event.”

She said that she had heard comments about the Reeves County Health Fair in comparison to other health fair that vendors had attended. “They were pleased that we had set up tables for them, provided banners and fed them a free breakfast,” said Seals. Local Physician’s Assistant Michelle Cser was providing screening of the circulation of lower extremities.

“She had too many people sign up, it was a really popular booth,” said Seals. “She was providing screening for the circulation in the legs and everyone wanted to have that done.” The barbecue lunch was a success, despite the fact that there was another barbecue lunch to raise funds for the Pecos High School band going on at the same time.

“We sold 150 tickets, but I haven’t added the ones that just walked in and bought it there,” said Seals.

Seals said that it was a great day and the newest addition this year was a plus to the health fair.

“The GEO Group (managers of the Reeves County Detention Center) were on hand and provided games for the kids,” she said. “That was definitely a plus and even the adults wanted to play the games.”

All the nominees for Golden Girl of the Old West were on hand providing face painting and tattoos for the children.

“They were a really polite group and the children really enjoyed them,” said Seals.

“All in all, it was a great day, but we need to plan it when there are not so many other things happening in the community, so that everyone can have a good turnout,” she said.

County joining effort to block BOP changes

Reeves County and several other West Texas counties and cities are currently working with area’s congressional representatives to ensure that the area keeps their intergovernmental agreements with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to house their inmates in the local detention centers.

On March 20, the BOP published a pre-solicitation notice to procure approximately 7,000 low security beds for non-U.S. citizens in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oklahoma, or Texas. However, the approximately 7,000 inmates are presently housed in four West Texas local government jails, including about 2,000 at the Reeves County Detention Center units I and II.

In response to this decision by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Texas Congressional delegation. including both Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn and the three Congressman for the affected communities, Henry Bonilla, Randy Neugebauer, and Mike Conway, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales strongly opposing the decision by the BOP to not renew the expiring Intergovernmental Agreements with local West Texas governments.

The affected local governments are Reeves County, Garza County (Post), the City of Big Spring and the city of Eden.

“It is our understanding that the BOP is not renewing these Texas IGAs because it wants contracts with longer terms than currently afforded IGAs under 18 U.S.C. 4002,” said the letter from the Texas delegation. “However, in 2000, Congress passed Section 119 of Public Law 106-553 which allows the BOP to enter into contracts with local governments for ‘any reasonable period,’ thus, the BOP could achieve its goal on longer term contracts by renewing agreements with the local Texas governments pursuant to Section 119.”

“But more importantly, in the Appropriations Bill Conference Report, the Congress strongly encouraged BOP to expand its use of Intergovernmental Agreements with local governments,” said Reeves County Commissioner Roy Alvarado. “The Texas delegation clearly stated to the Attorney General that they supported this language in the Appropriations Bill because they believed IGAs offer secure facilities to house these dangerous individuals, while providing the American taxpayers some of the lowest per diem rates in the nation,” he said.

“Secondly, the Conference Report directed the General Accounting Office of Congress to conduct a cost comparison review of low and minimum security facilities that compare the cost of BOP facilities, privately-operated facilities, and local prisons and jails obtained through Intergovernmental Agreements,” said Alvarado. “Thus, in my opinion, it is premature for the Bureau of Prisons to make decisions regarding Intergovernmental Agreements,” Alvarado said.

In their letter to the Attorney General signed by both senators and three congressman: “We write in strong opposition of any decision by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to not renew expiring Intergovernmental Agreements (IGAs) with local Texas governments currently housing federal criminal aliens. As you may recall, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 Science-State-Justice-Commerce Conference Report strongly encouraged the BOP to expand its use of IGAs with local governments. We supported this language because we believe IGAs offer secure facilities to house these dangerous individuals, while providing the American taxpayers some of the lowest per diem rates in the nation.”

“The local Texas governments which now stand to lose their IGAs with the BOP have expended considerable resources in order to meet the BOP’s requirements, including the issuance of long-term debt to finance the construction of these facilities in light of the BOP’s commitment to be a reliable, long-term federal partner. In each instance, the prison is the leading employer in the local Texas community; even the suggestion that each IGA will not be renewed has generated considerable alarm among the prisons’ employees, as well as other members of the community who financially rely upon the prisons,” the letter stated.

In closing, the letter read: “Because of the devastating impact this new policy will have on local communities within our state, as well as the impact on our nation’s ability to meet the increasing demands for the incarceration of criminal aliens, we seek your personal assurance that the BOP will not issue any solicitation notice to replace these local Texas IGAs until we are able to discuss with you or your designee our concerns about his new policy. We look forward to your response.”

“I went to Washington and I saw the GEO Group fighting to keep our IGA and I am glad we have their help,” said Reeves County Sheriff Arnulfo “Andy” Gomez.

Hospital starts hunt for new CEO, doctor

Reeves County Hospital has begun a search for a new Chief Executive Officer, after hiring a consultant to seek a replacement for retiring CEO Bill Conder during their regular monthly meeting last Thursday.

But board members put off beginning a search for a new physician to replace one planning to depart in June, in hopes that love will spare the hospital district the cost of trying to woo a new doctor to Pecos.

Larry D. Kruplana, president of Torch Management Services, was retained to help find a successor to Conder following an executive session of nearly two hours on Thursday night. The move was made after Conder decided in February to retire as hospital CEO, effective May 31 of this year.

Kruplana’s firm is part of the Texas Organization of Rural Community Hospitals, and has conducted searches for other hospital CEOs. During the open portion of the meeting, he said while the board can ask questions of any potential candidates, there would likely be certain questions asked by the candidates about the status of the hospital, including dealing with financial losses during the past two years linked to the expansion of the facility and the addition of the new kidney dialysis center.

“We can ask ‘What do you think we can do about that?’ in response to that area,” Kruplana said. “Frankly, if the person comes across right away with an answer, I’d be skeptical.”

“A good CEO will be a quick study,” he said. “They’ll be digging in quick to prioritize issues to deal with.”

Chief Financial Officer Frank Seals said it would take between 45 and 60 days to get a list of CEO candidates, and than narrow the field down before a final selection is made.

The doctor discussion centered around efforts to replace Dr. Haitham Jifi, who is planning to close his practice in Pecos on June 15. Board members were to discuss signing a agreement with Texas Recruiters for a new physician similar to the one with Kruplana, but Conder said, “I’ve heard from the medical staff there’s a possibility we may already have a doctor. We have a physician who is planning to marry a physician who may want to come here in November.”

Hospital Chief of Staff Dr. W.J. Bang said the doctor in question practices the same specialty as Dr. Jifi, internal medicine, which would make the transition better for the local medical community.

“Whatever we decide, the candidate has to go through a credentialing process,” Bang said. “The new graduates come out on July 1 … this person will be available sometime in November.”

“If we go with the agreement with Texas Recruiters, we’ll have to pay them a lot of money,” Conder said, citing a $22,500 fee.

“The hospital will save money if this candidate is the right candidate,” Bang said. He added that even if they hired the recruiting firm, it would take several months to locate and sign a contract with Jifi’s replacement.

In other action, the board approved hospital privileges for Dr. Cory Roberts, a pathologist who Conder said was employed by the company with whom the hospital was contracting out its pathology work. Conder also told the board that problems with the district’s aging ambulance means they will probably have to look at buying a new vehicle or rebuilding the current one in the near future.

Conder said two parts of the new hospital addition - a floor seam and the doors to the new section of the building, need to be looked at. Settling of the building and the lack of an expansion joint is causing tiles along the seam to crack, while gurneys are damaging the doors to the new section. He said automatic doors could be put in to solve that problem, at a cost of about $6,000, while a metal plate can be put on top of the seam area.

Board members also sold two pieces of property that had been taken off the tax rolls, and whose sale had previously been approved by other local taxing entitles. They approved an employee dental and health insurance plan with Blue Cross, and voted to cancel the May 13 board election. Board members Leo Hung, Brenda McKinney and Terry Honaker are unopposed for re-election, and under state law unopposed elections can be canceled in order to save the district money.

County’s jobless rate up slightly in February

Unemployment was up a tenth of a percent in Reeves County in February, according to figures released on Thursday by the Texas Workforce Commission, as the number of jobs and the workforce within the county both dipped slightly for the month.

The TWC said the county’s workforce was 4,216 people, a drop of five from January, while the number of jobs fell by eight, to 3,892 from the previous month, resulting in an unemployment rate of 7.7 percent. While that’s up from 7.6 percent in January, it’s down from 9.1 percent in February of 2005.

The county has lost 54 jobs in the past year, but the jobless rate dropped because the workforce has fallen by 125 people, according to the TWC figures. The local labor force statistics continue to be at odds with the county’s sales tax collection numbers, which were up about 10 percent in the first quarter of 2006 compared with a year ago.

Most of the other counties in the area also saw their rates remain virtually unchanged in February, with some reporting job losses while the area’s two largest counties saw their total number of jobs rise by eight percent for the second month in a row.

Midland County’s jobless rate rose from 3.5 to 3.6 percent. The area’s most-populated county added almost 500 people to its workforce and 438 jobs between January and February, according to the TWC. Ector County’s jobless rate remained stable at 4.3 percent. The county’s labor force also grew by almost 500 people and the number of jobs was up by 455.

Andrews County’s rate was up from 4.1 to 4.2 percent in February, as the number of workers was up 49 while the number of jobs increased by 41. Brewster County’s rate dropped from 3.8 to 3.6 percent, as the workforce added almost 146 workers and 149 jobs with the resumption of classes at Sul Ross State University. Crane County’s rate fell from 5.9 to 5.5 percent. The number of jobs was up by eight while the workforce grew by just two. Culberson County’s rate increased from 3.9 to 4.1 percent, as the county had one fewer workers and five fewer jobs than in January.

Howard County’s unemployment rate was 6.2 percent last month, up from January’s 6 percent. The county lost 113 jobs while the labor force shrank by 88 workers. Pecos County rate was 5.2 percent, up from 5 percent in January. The county added five workers but lost six jobs. The rate in Ward County was unchanged, at 5.2 percent, with the number of jobs up by 27 and the number of workers up 29 from January. Winkler County’s unemployment rate was down from 5.4 to 5.3 percent last month, with the county’s workforce declining by 28 people while the number of jobs fell by 22.

Presidio County’s jobless rate dropped from 10.7 to 10.5 percent, and is three points lower than a year ago. Presidio lost 6 workers but added two jobs between January and February. Loving County, with the fewest residents of any U.S. county, saw its jobless rate remain at 14.8 percent. The TWC said the county held at 27 workers and had four people unemployed.

San Roman receives degree in nursing

Sarah San Roman, the daughter of Sylvia and the late Richard San Roman, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Texas A&M International University in May 2005.

She is currently employed as an R.N. at Laredo Medical Hospital.

She is the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert Gomez of Pecos.

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