Texas Healthy Communities program recognizes local public health district

By Kelly Craine

The Texas Healthy Communities program recognizes Waco-McLennan County Public Health District for conducting a community assessment designed to evaluate current policy, systems, and environmental strategies and public health practices proven to reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other chronic diseases.

The THC program assists communities to assess their existing environments, implement changes in local environmental and policy infrastructure, and adopt priority public health practices to reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other chronic diseases. Based on outcomes of the community assessments, The THC program recognizes best practices being advanced within a community’s local jurisdiction.

The following communities were recognized at the Gold, Silver, Bronze, or Honorable Mention levels in fiscal year 2021:

• Gold Level: N/A

• Silver Level: Harris County, McLennan County, Travis County

• Bronze Level: El Paso County, City of Houston, Victoria County, Wichita County

• Honorable Mention Level: Brazos County, Lamar County, Taylor County

Communities are assessed on eight indicators to determine recognition as a Texas Healthy Community. Environmental indicators include designated areas for physical activity, healthy eating options, mother-friendly worksites, and evidence-based community supports for healthy aging. Policy indicators include smoke free ordinances, EMS systems with appropriate acute stroke treatment protocols, and an emergency response action plan.

More information about the THC program can be found on the Texas Department of State Health Services website or by contacting THC Program Coordinator Nneka Shoulds by email at nneka.shoulds@dshs.texas.gov.

Kelly Craine is communications lead for the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Local gyms join Humane Society’s Alpha Dog Academy to benefit shelter dogs

By Paula Rivadeneira

Mike Gray, canine behavior and enrichment specialist with the Humane Society of Central Texas, has a big job on his hands making sure every shelter dog gets the exercise and enrichment they need each day. He depends on volunteers who come to the shelter to help run dogs to their daily playgroup activities every morning. 

HSCTX’s new program, Alpha Dog Academy, promotes healthy active lifestyles for shelter pets and the community through friendly competition.

While dogs love playgroup and have shown huge improvements in their behavior and adaptability with regular participation, one-on-one interaction with humans in normal everyday activities is also critical in managing kennel-related stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that when a dog goes on a day trip from a shelter, their stress levels decrease and they sleep better. That’s why HSCTX promotes Doggy Daycations in which volunteers can pick up a shelter dog, take them out on the town, enjoy some snacks, have a walk in the park, or even cuddle at home on the couch. At the end of the day, the dog comes back to the shelter more relaxed.

With so many dogs needing high levels of exercise and enjoying Doggy Daycations, Mike came up with the idea of Alpha Dog Academy. The goal is for people who walk, run, or hike to pick up a shelter dog on their way to their activity, and HSCTX will track their miles for a friendly competition between gyms. 

There are four local gyms as well as a local running company, with members now signed up to participate — JR Crossfit, Train Waco, Anytime Fitness, 15:10 Crossfit, and Waco Running Co. Each month the miles will be totaled, and the winning gym will get to hold onto a huge trophy that was generously donated by Warren’s Engraving. Each month, the winning gym’s name will be engraved on the trophy.

Participants will undergo a short training about expectations and dog handling before their first session, and a Pet Matchmaker will pair them with the dog that matches their energy level and goals. Dogs can be picked up 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and they will be returned to the shelter by 5 p.m. This gives dogs an excellent opportunity to get out their energy, socialize, and be exposed to potential adopters while serving as an exercise buddy and motivator to the volunteers. 

Plus, there are added benefits to exercising with a dog, including the increased safety it provides and the good feelings that come from working out for a cause.

Sign up for Alpha Dog Academy here. If you are not affiliated with a gym, don’t worry! Individual participants are welcome to join, too.

The Humane Society of Central Texas, 2032 Circle Road, is open 1-6 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. The last meet-and-greet is 45 minutes before closing. Staff must accompany guests through the kennels, and COVID precautions are observed. Bring your own dogs and everyone who lives in your household to the meet and greet so your family can be matched with the perfect pet.

The Humane Society of Central Texas advocates for the animals at the City of Waco Animal Shelter; provides adoption, rescue and foster opportunities; and offers community education regarding responsible pet ownership. The partnership between HSCTX and the City of Waco Animal Services, along with the support of the community, has resulted in a current average live-exit rate above 90%, giving the Waco Animal Shelter No-Kill status.

Paula Rivadeneira, Ph.D., is executive director of the Humane Society of Central Texas.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Key to full return of local economy is tied to vaccinations, confidence

By Charles Williams

The Texas and U.S. economies are surging along with the confidence of U.S. consumers as COVID-19 vaccines flood the nation. But the persistence of the coronavirus makes the recovery fragile. 

Baylor Scott & White employees do their part to help community get back to normal. Vaccinations are the key.

The pace of the U.S. economic recovery in 2021 hinges on the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The general business activity index, which reflects the net share of Texas executives saying conditions improved or worsened, hit an all-time high in April for services companies. Manufacturers’ confidence spiked, too.

In the Texas services sector, indexes on general business activity and company outlook rose to their highest levels since the survey began in 2007. Among manufacturers, indexes for new orders and growth in orders climbed to their highest readings in the history of that survey, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

“All the stars are aligning to have a great recovery,” Luis Torres, research economist at the Texas Real Estate Research Center at Texas A&M University told The Dallas Morning News. “The economy is going gangbusters and the [Dallas Fed] forecast calls for recovering all the lost jobs [in Texas] by the end of the year.”

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar recently issued a revised revenue estimate that gives lawmakers several billion more dollars to spend as they wrap up the next state budget. Hegar cited improved performance of the state economy as COVID-19 restrictions began to be lifted over the past two months and immunizations improved consumer confidence. In a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dade Phelan, Hegar said he is optimistic about economic growth because of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations in Texas and reopenings of businesses in the state and elsewhere in the U.S.

Nationally, the economy expanded rapidly in the first quarter at a torrid 6.4% annualized rate. Personal consumer spending rose at an equally impressive annualized rate of more than 10%.

Our local area is also participating in the recovery. McLennan County sales and county use tax was up 1.6% in April and 7.7% year-to-date. Waco specifically is up 2.6% year-to-date. Many Texas cities and counties are running deficits compared with last year’s figures. 

Despite this, nearly a quarter of U.S. adults say they would still avoid shopping at local businesses or dining inside restaurants after being vaccinated, according to a new national survey by YouGov on behalf of Bankrate. But the economy can’t fully recover until consumers do what they do best in America: buy freely what they want or need. 

The key to full return of the local economy is residents’ confidence: How vulnerable am I if I venture out to shop or return to the workplace? How contagious are my neighbors and friends? 

Herd immunity — the rate at which enough people become immune to a disease to make its spread unlikely — may be an unattainable goal, experts say. However, the only sure answer is to vaccinate as many people as we can.

As of May 6, only 24% of McLennan County residents were fully vaccinated. Compare that with the Texas rate of 29% and the U.S. rate of 33%. A CDC assessment looking at hospitalizations in two U.S. hospital networks covering 24 hospitals in 14 states has found that fully vaccinated adults over the age of 65 are 94% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than unvaccinated adults in the same age group.

Encourage your friends, coworkers, and neighbors to get vaccinated. As more and more acquaintances become vaccinated, hesitancy and resistance will continue to melt. That leads to more consumer confidence and fuels the local economic recovery. 

A free online MyBSWHealth account is the easiest way for Waco area residents to schedule vaccine appointments at Baylor Scott & White Health. There are also walk-in appointments available. 

Right now it is time to roll up our sleeves and engage our communities to increase vaccination. The health of our community and our economy depend on it.

Charles Williams joined Baylor Scott & White in January 2021 as president of BSW – Hillcrest in Waco. Prior to that, he served as president and CEO of Regional Medical Center of Orangeburg & Calhoun Counties in Orangeburg, S.C. Charles is no stranger to Texas, having spent most of his life in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Mothers need more than flowers, jewelry, cards

By Tiffiney Gray

As we celebrated Mother’s Day recently, I was filled with excitement and so much appreciation for my generous, intelligent, and amazingly patient mother and mentor, Brenda Gray. I’m also thankful to be a mom to two incredible young daughters, and it’s a true delight to celebrate my friends who are also on this remarkable “mommyhood” journey. (I call it “mommyhood” because Olivia – my 19-month-old – sings “Mommy!” at least 500 times every day. I can see my fellow moms nodding their heads right now!)

Unfortunately, that joy is often tempered as I reckon with a harsh reality for women in Texas: Thousands of new moms celebrate Mother’s Day knowing they lack access to lifesaving, postpartum physical and mental health care. 

Currently, Texas women enrolled in Medicaid for Pregnant Women – women in families at up to 200% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL), or with income of $2,290/month – lose that coverage 60 days after giving birth, and only those at 14% FPL (about $251 in income per month for a family of three with two parents) can extend Medicaid coverage. 

In fact, between 2016 and 2018, there were an estimated 105,000 uninsured new mothers living in Texas. That means 105,000 new moms left vulnerable to life-threatening complications and health conditions that may occur within the first year postpartum.

I worry about the mom who has an infection. The mom who has a dangerously high spike in blood pressure. The mom who needs emergency surgery. The mom who finally suspects she has postpartum depression … on day 70. I worry about these moms. And I worry about their sweet babies. 

  • The Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee found that nine out of 10 pregnancy-related deaths were preventable, and one-third of maternal deaths occurred 43 days to one year after pregnancy.
  • The physiological strains that pregnancy puts on the body can exacerbate and have lingering effects on other unrelated (non-reproductive) systems that put a mom’s health at risk. 
  • The most common pregnancy-related and childbirth-related causes of death are cardiovascular diseases, excessive bleeding (or hemorrhage), infection, and cerebrovascular incidents (stroke), mental health needs, and other heart issues, which require specialty care and complex treatments.
  • While 20% of postpartum health care spending occurs within the first 60 days, a whopping 70% of postpartum costs occur after 90 days within the first year after giving birth. This spending is on infrequent but urgent services like surgeries and hospitalizations. 

Fortunately, there is hope! On April 14, the Texas House passed House Bill 133 – a bill that extends Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women from 60 days to 12 months after giving birth. This means that new moms are able to keep their health insurance for a full year after pregnancy, and it’s a key step toward preventing maternal deaths, addressing postpartum depression, and supporting healthy moms and babies. In fact, the Texas Maternal Mortality Review Committee’s number one recommendation to improve maternal health in Texas is “that health care coverage be extended to 12 months postpartum to help identify and properly manage health conditions before they become life-threatening.” 

Extending postpartum Medicaid will save women’s lives. It will allow access to comprehensive healthcare services; strong and established physician provider networks; and critical services like surgery, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations. 

Some contend that existing state programs – such as Healthy Texas Women (HTW) and Healthy Texas Women Plus (HTW+) – meet the same postpartum needs as Medicaid. HTW+ even includes some provisions for screening and treatment of chronic conditions (like diabetes and high blood pressure) and postpartum depression. But the services available to moms with HTW and HTW+ are limited in scope and just don’t measure up as adequate alternatives to the health insurance that Medicaid offers.

New mothers desperately need access to the full range of healthcare services that Medicaid makes possible. And new babies need care and nurturing from moms who are at their healthiest — their survival and development depend on it. 

House Bill 133 passed with tremendous bi-partisan support in the House but is currently stalled in the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. Which leads me to ask the question…

Why aren’t we more motivated to ensure healthcare for new moms? 

Fellow moms, think about how vulnerable you felt your first six weeks, 12 weeks … even six months after giving birth. Grandmothers, do you remember helping your adult daughters navigate those first three months with a newborn? It’s hard. It’s scary. It requires tremendous emotional and hands-on support from family. It is not the moment to pull the rug out from under new mothers most in need of societal support. 

One thing that has become abundantly clear during the year of COVID is that mothers are, in fact, the foundation of our society and economy. Mothers with means. Mothers in poverty. Married moms. Single moms. Working moms. Stay-at-home moms. 

Mothers watchfully nurture infants, keep them alive and healthy, and take on the task of developing resilient, self-sufficient people who grow up to become contributing adults. The least we can do is support healthcare legislation that improves the chances of survivability for new moms who need a little more help.

I want a few things for Mother’s Day this year. Healthy, thriving daughters. The laughter and delight of family and friends. And I wouldn’t turn down breakfast in bed. But it’s time to put more than flowers, jewelry, and cards in our Mother’s Day baskets. It’s time to enact legislation that tells every new mom in Texas that she is respected enough to support her full physical, psychological, and emotional recovery from bringing a new baby into this world.

Tiffiney Gray is senior content specialist for health initiatives with Prosper Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Snipes tells stories of Waco health professional heroes

Editor: In honor of Women’s History Month, we are featuring interviews with local women leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media.

By Campbell Wilford

Megan Snipes, marketing and public relations consultant at Baylor Scott & White Health, serves the Waco community through her dedication to bringing to light the stories of Waco’s health professionals. Especially now during the coronavirus pandemic, Snipes’ job holds great importance as she broadcasts the idea that an appreciation for our healthcare workers is so needed. 

Megan Snipes

Snipes grew up in San Antonio and credits her hard work and character to her father, who served as a pastor. Snipes talks in depth about how it was her Christ-centered family that shaped the woman that she has become today. As one of six children, she says she learned that anything you want in life you have to work hard for. 

 “My dad would wake us up at 6 a.m. every morning for prayer, which I was not happy about as a child, as a teenager, who needs a lot of sleep. But now looking back I totally understand why, and I’m so grateful that I had that influence in my life,” Snipes said. 

Snipes said she did not have a direct career path as she worked as a TV news producer and reporter at KWTX, the CBS affiliate in Waco, and then worked as executive producer of a lifestyle show in Austin. She encourages taking every opportunity whether or not it seems to align with an individual’s goals or not. 

“Everything that happens in life I think leads you to where you’re supposed to be. Random things give you little drops of knowledge that are going to help you, that you may not even know are eventually going to help you, but they help you in the long run,” Snipes said. 

It was when Snipes’ father passed away from Leukemia in January 2016, that she discovered her passion for the role of nurses and healthcare providers. Seeing the care and the compassion that the nurses and doctors had for her dad and for her family was “life changing,” she said.

Snipes says she jumped at the opportunity to return to Waco and work for Baylor Scott & White Health. In this position, she says she loves that she still gets to work with area TV news stations while helping other people to understand the length that the healthcare workers go to in order to take care of us.

 “I want people to understand that it is not hyperbole to call our healthcare workers heroes. What they do every day is amazing, and it’s really special. I think it takes a really special kind of person to be in healthcare, so I have the utmost respect for all of them. There is no price tag on what they do,” Snipes said.

Snipes tells the stories of both the healthcare workers and the patients. She says she hopes that telling patients’ stories will help other people who are either going through the same thing or could potentially prevent the same thing from happening to them. Snipes says the team at Baylor Scott & White-Hillcrest calls what they do “sacred work.”

“Work hard at whatever you do and treat people with respect and kindness no matter who they are because you never know who is going to end up being your boss. You reap what you sow, so you continually want to be sowing kindness and continually be sowing positivity so that that is what you can reap,” Snipes said. 

Campbell Wilford is a sophomore marketing major with a public relations minor at Baylor University. She is from New Braunfels. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Pediatrician works to prevent child sexual abuse

Editor: In honor of Women’s History Month, we are featuring interviews with local women leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media.

By Brittany Tankersley

What began as a small puppet show at the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims & Children in 2008 quickly became a way for Waco families to safely educate their children.

Dr. Soo Battle

By 2010, this puppet show became what is now called Camp Careful, a program dedicated to educating Waco families about abuse prevention. According to the Camp Careful website its mission is to “reduce and prevent child sexual abuse through child empowerment, family education, and community awareness.”

Covering topics such as “good touch, bad touch, body autonomy, and consent,” Dr. Soo Battle focuses on age-appropriate sexual advocacy education.

Battle is a board-certified, licensed pediatrician who works part-time in a pediatric practice in Waco

“I’m really teaching it in the context of how do you keep your kids safe?” Battle said. “I go over general safety rules at the beginning of the classes, so the kids understand, ‘Oh, yeah, my parents have rules to keep me safe all the time.’ So I teach it in that way. It’s not about sex. I don’t ever really talk about sexual acts. It’s more about protecting their body and what private parts are and what private means.”

Many parents are uncomfortable discussing these topics with their children. However, educating children on not only the dangers of predators but also the many questions they have can be more valuable than foregoing the awkwardness. 

“If they are asking then it is upon us as parents to teach them and give them the answers in an age appropriate manner,” Battle said. “Answer as little as you need to, to fulfill their curiosity, but don’t lie to them. And don’t make up something in a fantasy answer. Because if they think that that doesn’t make sense, or if they hear it from somebody else, then they’re in conflict with what you have told them.”

Camp Careful offers Waco families an easier way to tackle these necessary but difficult conversations via six programs varying by age groups and topics, and there are even private sessions with Battle. 

According to the Camp Careful website, over 9,000 parents and children have attended its abuse prevention sessions through public classes or private speaking engagements since 2008-2021. But why Waco? 

“We love raising our families here,” Battle said. “It’s close to things if you want the big city thing. You can go to Dallas or Austin quickly, but the small town atmosphere is here. And you get a sense of community and not all the headaches of being in a big city.”

Raised in Austin, Battle graduated from Westlake High School and then the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts honors program. She earned her medical doctorate from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston in 2000.

Waco’s family-oriented yet still exciting lifestyle makes the city the perfect place for Camp Careful to call its home, she said. 

“There’s a million things to do,” Battle said. “From little kids with Cameron Park Zoo to the Mayborn Museum. There’s lots of organizations to volunteer in. There’s lots of churches to join, if that is your thing. There’s great schools all over. We love Waco.”

Camp Careful is one of the many organizations that call Waco its home, however, it is one of the few that deeply protect and advocate for the education and protection of its youth. 

Brittany Tankersley is a junior at Baylor University studying journalism. She is from Tennessee. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Dr. Macik connects with patients & Waco

Editor: In honor of Women’s History Month, we are featuring interviews with local women leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media.

By Samuel Lamkin

Dr. Felicia Macik is the owner of Uncommon Healthcare and has practiced medicine for more than 20 years. She says the best part about her job is the “technical challenge” and the relationships she creates with patients. 

Dr. Felicia Macik

Macik has seen the medical field change for women in recent years. She recalled serving as first assistant in a bilateral knee biopsy when she was in her residency. She was one of only a few women in the operating room. For the 6½ hours of the procedure, she said the lead doctor talked about how women should not be in the medical field because they would eventually have children and choose to stay home with them. 

“Women have come a long way,” said Macik. And she does now have children — two sons, one in college and one in high school.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Tarleton State University before attending medical school at the University of North Texas Health Science Center/Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Worth, according to the Uncommon Healthcare website. She completed family medicine training at UTMB Family Medicine Residency at Conroe. 

Macik and her husband, James, then relocated to Memphis after she was selected for fellowship training at the University of Tennessee at Memphis. Upon completing her fellowship in 1999, the Maciks “hurried home to Texas to ensure that their firstborn would receive a proper birth certificate,” the website says. 

In 2003, they moved to Clifton, northwest of Waco, and she now commutes to Waco. 

“I love Waco so much. Ever since we moved here in 2003 there is so much pride and enthusiasm about the community, and there are people that want to make it better,” said Macik.

“Back when we moved here, downtown Waco was not a good place to be. Now I feel safe walking around at night,” Macik said.

One thing Macik appreciates is the community. She said it is “not homogenous.” Not everything is the same; there is a good variety of people in the community. As a family medicine specialist, this diversity is reflected in her practice. She sees people from all backgrounds. 

Macik also appreciates that Waco has multiple educational campuses. With Baylor University, McLennan Community College, and Texas State Technical College nearby she thinks it makes Waco more likely to have a population increase.

“You have a lot of young families, second generations, and people that have lived here a really long time that use these educational resources and in turn help the community,” said Macik. 

Being a business owner and juggling patients, Macik said she has less time to be actively involved in Waco than she would like. With the little bit of time she does have, she is involved in the nonprofit, 40 Days for Life, which is a pro-life organization.

“If I had enough time to be more involved in my community, I can see myself participating in pro-life events or doing something creative,” said Macik.

In the time Macik has lived in Waco she has noticed a flourish in the city and the surrounding areas, saying Waco has “blossomed” with Magnolia and Fixer Upper. 

“I like the size of Waco right now, but we are very close to overgrowing,” Macik said. “I like that I can recognize people around downtown, but it is happening less and less.”

Samuel Lamkin is a Baylor University freshman journalism student.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Vaccine distribution provides life-changing clinical experience for MCC students

By Madison Schick 

McLennan Community College’s Health Professions students have experienced personal fulfillment through their volunteer efforts at Waco’s COVID-19 vaccination clinics, and they have helped redefine the influences of hands-on education and what it means to learn through experience. 

Students of the Associate Degree Nursing, Medical Lab Technician, Medical Assistant, and Veterinary Technology programs participated with MCC faculty and other local medical professionals to educate, care for, and vaccinate members of the community in the fight against COVID-19. 

Students’ participation in the vaccination clinics has been eye-opening in community building and in the ability of aspiring health profession students to witness a glimpse of the impactful differences they will continue to make in the future as professionals. 

Liz Painter, RN and simulation specialist within MCC’s Vocational Nursing, administered vaccines to survivors of COVID-19, joyfully tearful immunocompromised adults, and at-risk geriatric patients hopeful to see their families in the near future. With pride in MCC and her students, Liz is also grateful to have met “such a range of people, but all so happy to be receiving the vaccine.” 

Among the thousands to receive the vaccine, MCC’s Senior Graphic Designer Clif-Ann Paris could not have been more impressed with the efficiency, efficacy, and success of the vaccination clinic. “My appointment was for 12:10 p.m., and I was given my first dose only two minutes later. I was given all the information I needed, and my wellbeing was prioritized.” 

What’s next for McLennan Community College? Dean of Health Professions Glynnis Gaines reflects, “We always talk about community service, and it is a part of who we are, but this has really opened new doors” for students and faculty. Nursing students from Baylor University, Texas State University, and Texas Christian University make up only a few of participating institutions across the state that join MCC in education and service through active volunteerism at COVID-19 vaccination clinics across the state. 

Madison Schick is social media and communications specialist at McLennan Community College. A literature enthusiast and graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Madison studied environmental science, English, and history, and still loves all things related to reading and writing. Her other interests include connecting with old friends, trying new restaurants, and spoiling her two rescue cats, Remus and Chewy, with lots of love and treats.  

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org. 

Vaccines are the new toilet paper

By Suzii Paynter March

Everybody needs it and there is not enough. Rumors fly, promises of millions are made, but national news notwithstanding, it’s only the local supply that matters. The city, the county, medical providers, pharmacies, hubs, hospitals are all at the ready… and ready… and ready. Could somebody turn on the spigot? Vaccine production, running water? It is a frustratingly bleak reminder that the systems we put in place matter. 

When it comes to Waco and the meager amounts of vaccine we are being sent from Texas State Health Services, I’m wondering, “Is the State of Texas Health data up to date? Do they know Waco-McLennan has grown in the past 5 years? Is our dose allocation up to date? Or are they using 10-year-old Census data to determine the number of vaccine doses we need?” I mean, can people in Austin count?

Good people are working hard, but they are pioneers forging a way through the we-have-never-had-a-pandemic underbrush, not motorists driving down a well-travelled Interstate highway of frozen medicine delivery. 

Remember the fits and starts that riddled Katrina response? The unintended health consequences for first responders from 911? Things got better when subsequent hurricanes hit, and new protections are now in place for first responders. As a nation we are not slow learners, and I take comfort in believing that we are able to learn and adapt. 

Back to bathroom tissue. Last March the run on the tissue aisle at HEB meant they draped the aisle to hide the poor stock boys so they could get product to the shelves, pull down the draping and then scurry off the floor to safety before the rush of shoppers. There was an early morning hour set aside for elderly  shoppers and other experimental measures employed by stores to try to meet demand and spread the essential tissue widely. 

If you are 1b, are you calling and emailing every place you can think of?  I am. Back in November I was prepared to wait patiently until April for my vaccine because I thought none was available…. THEN we were told vaccine was available for 1b NOW. Then I shifted from patient patient to eager patient, urgently looking for my dose! 

I sincerely believe the spigot will come on and vaccines will be available. Waco has a system for delivery through public hubs and private sources, and there are many places and populations that need support. The need is going to get bigger and bigger, and we have to plan and build for tomorrow as well as today. 

So my pledge is that even while I am anxious for my dose, I can still be a part of the build out –  I can call, volunteer, organize my workplace, my family, keep up to date and help my friends get connected, too. The city needs volunteers as vaccinators, as paperwork and crowd management volunteers, and as ambassadors for various neighborhoods and in various congregations and pockets of the community. Call the city number to help: 254-750-1890.

Suzii Paynter March is chief executive officer of Prosper Waco, our community’s collective impact initiative. She is a graduate of Baylor University, with a lifetime of experience in organizational leadership and public advocacy.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Mayor’s opening remarks for Jan. 27 COVID-19 press conference

By Mayor Dillon Meek

I want to thank our hospital personnel and our health district and city staff members working around the clock while being caring and compassionate and undoubtedly exhausted. Thank you!

Our local hospital systems, our city staff, our county judge, and myself are in close, regular contact with one another as we discuss and monitor data regarding our hospital capacity and hospital personnel and monitor whether or not there will be a need for an alternative care site. To date, this still seems more improbable than probable. Our hospitals and our Waco-McLennan County Office of Emergency Management have developed robust plans to keep our population safe should the number of hospital patients increase to a degree of serious alarm. 

Our local doctors continue to advise us of the seriousness of this virus, and I urge our community to also make wise decisions in the days ahead by following these doctors’ calls to wear masks in public, follow safe distancing protocol, and wash hands. Following this doctor-endorsed protocol makes this situation not fearful.

As a reminder, at the present time, Texas mayors and local governments have almost no policy-making authority. Gov. Abbot has implemented and has control of the regulations and mandates – from wearing masks to closures of bars to occupancy requirements. The governor has issued an order stating we cannot issue more restrictive orders than him. We have not heard any word from the governor’s office that this might change.

The Waco-McLennan County Emergency Operations Center is working with the Texas Department of Emergency Management and DOCS Health Testing to provide free COVID-19 testing to the community. When you register online, it does ask for your insurance information. You do not have to have insurance to receive a test. For people with insurance, there is no out-of-pocket cost or copay to get the test. Please go to COVIDwaco.com to register.

The Emergency Management Center previously received a refrigerated trailer to be used as a temporary morgue. This refrigerated truck is currently housing 19 remains.

Vaccinations

This is a time for hope! People in McLennan County are getting vaccinated and we celebrate that.

As a reminder, there are many local organizations giving vaccines; we call these “ vaccine providers” or just providers. A list of these providers is on COVIDwaco.com and includes CVS, HEB, Brookshire Brothers, Baylor Scott and White, Ascension Providence. One of these many providers is our  Waco-McLennan County Public Health District.  

Of these providers, two were selected by the state to serve as vaccination Hubs to get vaccinations quickly to all eligible 1A and 1B recipients, regardless of residence. These two hubs are the public health district and Ascension Providence. Hub sites get larger quantities of vaccines than other providers. This week, the public health district received approximately 1,500 doses and Providence received 1,950 doses.  

As a reminder, local government has no authority or control over any provider but does work to collaborate and partner with providers when they are able and willing.

Public Health District vaccination clinic

Yet again, staff was able to administer all doses without wasting any vaccine. Many vials even contained more than the average 10 doses per vial and staff made sure to utilize all of it — 1,618 people were vaccinated in the two-day clinic. I am so thankful for the care and effort our staff, partners, and volunteers put into every aspect of these events.

We have received another shipment of 1,500 doses and are hosting another vaccine clinic this week at the Waco Convention Center on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. We were glad to be able to make a weekend clinic day available for those who are unable to make it in during the normal workweek.

We did not open a registration portal for appointments for this clinic. Staff worked from the waitlist to schedule appointments and reached out by email and by phone to the contact information provided in the waitlist. Staff is working diligently to make sure this is a fair and equitable process.

I acknowledge that many citizens have tried to register for the vaccine with us and were unsuccessful, and that this process has been frustrating for so many. The registration process was unable to accommodate the initial volume, but processes have improved, and the website will be continually updated to provide clarity. Be encouraged to continue to log on to the website, read updates in emails, and sign up for the public health district’s waiting list.  

If you did not get an appointment for this week’s clinic, please be patient. Demand continues to far outweigh supply and the Health District is still only receiving 1,500 doses per shipment. We will continue to get consistent shipments of vaccine allocations from the state, and we will continue to move through the waitlist and to host clinics. We are not scheduling appointments until the allocations have been physically received.

If you have signed up through any of the prior lists, you are on the waitlist. We did not throw out any of the previous lists or contact information.

Please, continue to encourage those you know who are eligible for a vaccine to get on the waitlist, or help them register if they are unable. Just make sure that the name on the waitlist is the name of the eligible individual getting the vaccine. The waitlist link is available online at COVIDwaco.com (look for the big red button labeled Vaccine Waitlist Registration) and the call-center is available to assist with any questions or registration at 254-750-1890.

You are being responsible, good citizens in signing up for the waitlist. The list is 20,000 – a testament to how well our citizens are responding and Waco should be proud. Your Public Health District is committed to working through the list, and residents should know that, by signing up, they are helping Waco understand who needs a vaccine and how to best get it to people with different needs.

As we continue to move forward with these clinics, it is so evident that these events are a community effort. So much goes on behind the scenes that makes these clinics run smoothly. I would like to thank our community partners who have helped the Public Health District make these clinics happen:

•      Baylor Scott and White-Hillcrest

•      Baylor University, Louise Herrington School of Nursing in Dallas

•      McLennan Community College, School of Nursing

•      Tarleton State University, School of Nursing

•      American Medical Response, EMS services

•      Central Texas Medical Reserve Corps and all who have volunteered through that great organization

•      Heart of Texas Red Cross

•      McLennan County

•      City of Waco Fire Department, Office of Emergency Management, Police, IT, Waco Convention Center, and the many employees who have pivoted to help work the call-center on weekends and after hours

•      I would particularly like to highlight this week that Waco Transit is providing free rides to the Public Health District vaccine clinic through the Demand Response Van Service. Call 254-750-1620 24-hours in advance of your appointment to schedule your ride.

•      City and county leadership and the Public Health District staff are working hard with limited information about shipments of vaccines. Communications are and will continue to be challenging, and your patience is appreciated. We will continue to communicate through our weekly update emails, our website, this press conference, social media, town hall meetings (one of which was recently done with a variety of leaders including Commissioner Pat Miller and Council Member Andrea Barefield).

Some telephone numbers to call

•      Public Health District-supported bilingual call center (254-750-1890) to provide vaccine information and/or assist clients with registration for the vaccine clinic through the online registration portal,

•      City Public Information bilingual Hotline (254-750-5606) with recorded, up-to-date COVID-19 and vaccine messages and resources.