Moore County Judge Rowdy Rhoades administered the oath of office Wednesday to Dr. Carmen Purl to become the new local health authority for Moore County. "I feel like this is important for our county, because the state health department is so overwhelmed that they are not serving our citizens. They are doing the best they can, but Dr. Purl will be able to serve the citizens of the county," said Rhoades.
Texas law allows counties to appoint a physician local health authority to assist the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) in administering state and local laws relating to public health and infectious diseases within the county. Among the health authority's duties will be managing information and statistics about the state of the COVID pandemic in the county. Moore county residents now have to wait for information to come from the state. With the DSHS having to manage the pandemic statewide, information in Moore County, such as deaths and the number of cases, is often out of date and no longer accurate, according to Moore County Emergency Management Coordinator Tommy Brooks. Brooks initially suggested to the Moore County Commissioners that having a local health authority would allow residents of the county to have more accurate and timely information regarding the COVID pandemic, and it would streamline the management of the pandemic in the county. In the absence of a local health authority, the Texas Department of State Health Services' Region 1 office, which encompasses the entire Texas Panhandle, becomes the de facto health authority for the county.
The commissioners voted unanimously during their regular meeting on November 9 to appoint Purl, who is a family physician in Sunray, effective December 2. She will serve a two-year term. In addition to her Sunray practice, she has Dr. Purl's Fast Care Clinic in Dumas, and she is the physician representative on the Moore County Hospital District Board of Directors. She said Wednesday that while her job would encompass all infectious diseases, COVID would obviously be her focus now. She said her first priority would be improving the information flow about the state of the disease in the county. "We will be working with our state officials to make sure everyone in Moore County has good access to information that is accurate," she said. She said she was not a big fan of government mandates and felt that people would make the best decisions for themselves, if given timely and accurate information. "What we need in Moore County is good data that is up to date that gives residents of Moore County an accurate picture of what is going on, so they know how many cases are active in the community, how many people have recovered, how many people are seriously ill, how many have died from COVID, and they can make choices for them and their family with real information."
She echoed Rhoades in saying that DSHS personnel were working hard, but "with the pandemic having such huge numbers, our regional health authority are frankly overstressed and unable to give individual care to each and every county," she said. "The state is not staffed for a global pandemic."
Purl said that there were "significantly more cases (of COVID) than what the state is reporting" in Moore County. She said the lag time between when deaths occur and when the state reports them has also led to an undercount in deaths. "I have been certifying deaths … more than I ever have before," she said. "You can track the bodies and tell what is going on with COVID." As for people who compare COVID to the flu, "All I can tell them is that I don't sign all these death certificates during flu season."
Purl said the COVID unit at the hospital, including the three intensive care unit (ICU) beds, was full, and the hospital district was relying on state-supplied nurses and a state-supplied physician. The physician is an "intensivist," who takes care of patients requiring intensive care. "He is a very capable physician," said Purl. Brooks has recently requested two additional respiratory therapists for the hospital from the state. "Our respiratory therapy department is doing a tremendous job for the number of patients, but they are needing extra staff, extra help for that," said Purl. She said the hospital is providing high quality care, and staff are making good use of home monitoring to take care of patients, but the number of cases is a problem. "There has been an ambulance at the Fast Care Clinic almost every day with someone that is coming in that needs emergency care." With large numbers of COVID patients hospitalized in Amarillo and Lubbock, Moore County patients needing a higher level of care are having to be flown by fixed-wing air ambulances to hospitals as far away as Kansas City.
Purl said she didn't expect to see a vaccine available in Moore County until spring of 2021. Some experts are predicting that the pandemic will get worse over the coming weeks. "I am just hoping this current surge will back off. … I just hope we are seeing the peak of our surge right now."