County to use ARPA funds
By Brittany Anderson
HAYS COUNTY — Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Central Texas — and Hays County is diverting funds to provide free or low-cost breast cancer screenings to help combat this.
During its Aug. 2 regular meeting, the Hays County Commissioners Court unanimously approved a Hays County Social Service Funding Agreement with United Way for Greater Austin to use ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds for cancer screening and treatment for those at or below 250% of the federal poverty level, or those who are uninsured or not eligible for other resources.
Ardurra Group serves as the program manager for the Hays County ARPA program, assisting commissioners and county staff in the planning, development and execution of projects with its funds. Eric Boehning, senior project manager of Ardurra, said that coming up with the justification to use funds for this initiative “practically wrote itself.”
Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe said that uninsured patients are six times more likely to be diagnosed with cancers, which are identified in late stages. The five-year life expectancy for Stage Four breast cancer is just 27%, compared to 99% life expectancy for Stage One.
While the organization is interested in working with all types of cancers, they are starting off focusing on breast cancer — and stress that screenings are important for both men and women.
Affordable and preventative measures are key, which is what this funding will be able to provide. People who otherwise would not have had the opportunity will be able to be screened and get other services they need, Ingalsbe explained.
The initiative works in Hays, Bastrop, and Williamson counties. The intent is to use available local resources first, then use these ARPA dollars to fill the gap for screening and treatment.
Commissioner Walt Smith, who helped prepare this item for over a year alongside Ingalsbe, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had detrimental effects to this kind of healthcare — nationwide, screenings dropped to 40%. But a service like this, he said, allows tax dollars to be spent in a “really judicious and well-meaning way.”
“A lot of people don’t remember that while our emergency rooms were still open [during COVID], there was a long period where the general work of those hospitals, the preventative work that they did, was unavailable,” Smith said. “This is an opportunity for us to go out into their communities and bring those services to the population that needs them. It really struck me that those preventive things, those ‘maintenance’ healthcare needs of our community, really weren’t met during the pandemic, simply because our professionals didn’t have the opportunity to meet with those folks, and those facilities were closed.”
Ellen Richards, vice president of United Way for Greater Austin, explained that the service works like a “funnel:” people are able to get screened through preventative mammograms, and those who are found to have something unusual in their analysis can then, if applicable, be diagnosed and get treatment.
“Our goal is to change that trend by getting people into screening and treatment so that they can get the help that they need and go on to live productive lives,” Richards said. “We really need people to get out there and get screened. We’ll be working with the folks here in this county on the ground who can help do that outreach and get people in the pipeline.”
With the Big Pink Bus in full service and providing screenings, two women in Hays County have already been diagnosed with breast cancer and are in treatment — bolstering the need for this service even more.