Texas University to Close Port Arthur Prenatal Clinic

The Beaumont Enterprise
October 2, 2003, Thursday
By Jamie Reid

PORT ARTHUR, Texas--Esmeralda Rocha stopped by a University of Texas Medial Branch-run prenatal clinic here for the last time Tuesday.

UTMB is abandoning the clinic after a contract between the hospital and Jefferson County never materialized. Although a Beaumont doctor will take over some of the clinic patients, he will only see patients with insurance.

Rocha, 25, doesn't have insurance, so her choices are limited.

She has an appointment Dec. 8 at a UTMB-run clinic in Beaumont, but she's not sure how to get there.

Her husband works in construction and can't take her to the 9:30 a.m. appointment, Rocha said through a translator. She doesn't want to drive herself to Beaumont because she doesn't drive well.

UTMB staff said a majority of patients here are in similar situation. They are undocumented residents who are ineligible for Medicaid and will not get care from the county, said Weldene Baertl, regional director for UTMB.

"It's sad because a lot of people are going to end up suffering," said Sandra Colunga, Port Arthur clinic clerk. "We feel like they are going to fall through the cracks deliver babies that are sick because they don't have prenatal care or get pregnant because they can't get (birth control) pills."

Those patients, estimated at several hundred, can drive to the UTMB-run clinic in Beaumont for care. UTMB staff here Sept. 25 carried all patient files to the Beaumont clinic, 950 Washington Blvd.

No UTMB employees have yet been let go, Baertl said. The employees that regularly come to the Port Arthur clinic about six will now travel to UTMB clinics in Beaumont and Orange.

Baertl during a news conference Tuesday issued a statement to patients in Spanish, "Es importante que todos nuestro pacientes intienden que los esperemos para verlos en la clinica de UTMB Beaumont para cuida de salud."

Translated: She hopes patients will go to the Beaumont clinic for health care.

Patients with insurance can see Beaumont doctor William Hawkins three days a week at the clinic location, 246 Dallas Ave., Precinct 4 Commissioner Everette "Bo" Alfred said. The county will pay Hawkins $ 50,000 a year for the service.

"We had to do the next best thing," Alfred said. "We couldn't stay handcuffed."

UTMB officials announced in May the clinic would close this summer because Jefferson County was not helping financially and state cuts were decimating funds.

About five years ago, Jefferson County paid UTMB $ 92,000 annually for both the Beaumont and Port Arthur clinics, but now pays for neither, Baertl said. County officials said they stopped paying because UTMB didn't provide clear financial reports to prove where taxpayer money was spent.

The issue was never resolved.

"We want to know who we are treating and where they are from," Precinct 3 Commissioner Waymon D. Hallmark said. "We don't know if we are taking care of people from Chambers County or Orange County."

The director of Jefferson County Health & Welfare is looking into capturing federal funds to open a Port Arthur clinic that will treat undocumented residents, Hallmark said.

Until then, Port Arthur patients can call either the Port Arthur or Beaumont UTMB clinics to set appointments.

Call the Port Arthur office at (409) 982-8359 or the Beaumont office at (409) 833-3826.

The Beaumont office is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Wednesdays, the clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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