Dr. Tony Torres, founder of Cleburne’s Hope Medical & Dental Clinic discusses the future of health care access and costs with the Johnson County Commissioners Court. Torres hopes to host a February town hall to address upcoming challenges facing health care.
The Johnson County Commissioners Court honored two recently retired long-serving members of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office on Monday morning.
JCSO Chief Deputy Jimmy Johnson retired after 20 years while Sgt. Robert Bates retired after 23 years.
Sheriff Bob Alford presented plaques to both men and commended their service.
Johnson served as the Precinct 4 Constable for four years before joining the JCSO.
“Thank God for taking care of us and getting us to where we got,” Johnson said. “Thank you too to the voters who elected me in 1992 and to Sheriff Alford for taking me under his wing.”
Members of the court called Johnson a credit to the county.
“I’ve worked 18 years with Jimmy,” County Judge Roger Harmon said. “In those years I’ve never ever called with a question or when I needed something that he didn’t respond right back.”
Bates did an excellent job over the years training deputies, Alford said.
“I’d just like to thank the sheriff, the commissioners and the guys out there I work with for letting me stay here this long,” Bates said.
Health care town hall
Dr. Tony Torres, founder of Cleburne’s HOPE Medical & Dental Clinic, told commissioners he hopes to hold a county town hall to address changes and challenges upcoming concerning health care access and costs.
Torres hopes to include Gov. Rick Perry, state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, state Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, local officials and business owners and community members in the town hall.
HOPE Clinic’s primary purpose, Torres said, is to assist uninsured residents. Texas boasts the highest rate of uninsured residents in the country, he said, adding that number doubles when considering those uninsured for dental coverage.
Hope Clinic has helped more than 16,000 residents since opening in 2007 and more than 2,000 dental patients.
“It’s dentists, doctors and others from the community, a grass-roots effort,” Torres said. “The help of a lot of volunteers is how we do it.”
Volunteer work, donations and some county funding, fund HOPE Clinic.
Several factors present challenges going forward, Torres said. Those include the The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare and the increased county population projected in the wake of Texas 121, a toll road under construction linking Fort Worth to Cleburne.
“We don’t know how things are going to work out exactly yet, but know there’s going to be an impact as it filters down to the community level,” Torres said of the health care law, several provisions of which take affect next year.
Texas 121 estimates project Cleburne’s population increasing from about 30,000 to 70,000 or so in the next decade, Torres said, which means more residents in need of medical care.
Tax reform proposals under consideration may alter deductions for charitable giving, he said, which may result in more need among nonprofits and less giving by individuals and businesses.
Many also predict a shortage of doctors for Medicare and Medicaid patients, Torres said.
“I want to consider a community coalition to analyze all these problems,” Torres said. “Have a town hall and get the facts so when the changes come they don’t hit us like a tsunami and we can be proactive and have a strategic plan.”
Torres told Harmon he hopes to hold the town hall in February.
“By then we’ll know something about the [Jan. 1] fiscal cliff situation,” Torres said. “And this is also contingent on Gov. Perry’s schedule and if he can come.”
Torres urged residents to contact Perry’s office and ask him to attend.
Harmon said the town hall is needed.
“A lot of [the health care law] is new and we don’t know yet that we fully understand the impact it’s going to have,” Harmon said.
Veterans benefits and health care
On a related note, Johnson County Veterans Services Director Kathryn Fasci told commissioners the number of local veterans requesting services and benefits has dramatically increased and will continue to do so as more men and women return from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Receiving the benefits is more complicated than in the past because of increased bureaucracy and longer forms, Fasci said.
Increased demand has stretched the limits of both county veteran services offices beyond capacity, Fasci said, in requesting additional space.
“It must be handicap accessible,” Fasci said. “Other than that, if a closet has a door on it I’m not picky.
“It’s just unacceptable to not be able to get [veterans] the benefits they’re entitled to and have already earned.”
Harmon said space may become available once the county’s new adult probation center opens as those offices will move from their current spaces.
Johnson County received high praise from Donald Kelm, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Services District 8 administrator. The district includes Johnson and other counties.
A recent district roundup, held in Lubbock, resulted in more than $200,000 in scholarships with one Johnson County member receiving more than $16,000.
Johnson County ranks in the top three or four statewide regarding participation in 4-H and other extension clubs.
Of the 21 counties in District 8, Johnson County historically brings the most participation, Kelm said.
Commissioners voted to permanently decrease the speed limit to 30 mph along an 1,100 foot stretch of County Road 109 east of Farm-to-Market Road 1807. The road fronts Lillian Elementary, an Alvarado ISD school.