Q&A: District 77 Rep. Lina Ortega
District 77 Rep. Evelina “Lina” Ortega serves El Paso and works closely with the Public Health Committee to bring important health services to her district. In this Q&A, she discusses the coming session, where she wants to focus on reducing the numbers of uninsured people, and more access to postpartum care and lactation services for low-income women.
Haley Donwerth: Can you speak to the access of health care and tele-health services during COVID-19 and available bandwidth to support that access?
Rep. Lina Ortega: “Texas has been slow to increasing access to healthcare even though we are a state with a large percentage of uninsured. The increase to tele-health services during COVID-19 is essentially a pilot program. Normally the state will set up these programs before it is moved into the policy or law and the fact that the state has relaxed these rules to access tele-health has allowed more people to receive care remotely, because people have been reluctant to see a health care provider since the onset of COVID-19 for fear of getting infected. Expansion to tele-health services has been especially helpful in rural communities where distance to the nearest provider was an issue. Access to health care still remains a problem among communities where the internet isn’t accessible. For example, I represent a district that represents the south side of El Paso that largely lacks access to the internet, so a lot of my constituents still can’t utilize tele-health. This is an area we will have to improve to ensure that more people are able to utilize tele-health services.”
HD: What steps do you think need to be taken from a public health standpoint to prevent further COVID-19 spread?
LO: “We have to continue to limit the opening of businesses, in particular, bars. We need to have timely results of tests. We need to make testing available in residential areas, especially those considered hot spots. And we need more hybrid testing locations where they can walk to to be tested. We need to advise the public to continue to wear their mask in public and wash their hands often, and continue to limit the capacity of businesses.”
HD: What public health items do you want to focus on in the next legislative session?
LO: “Depending on what occurs in November will be important on deciding what legislation I will be pushing for. There will be a strong push for Medicaid expansion next session to work on lowering the numbers of uninsured. I want to continue to push the community health workers bills, because they are proven to be very effective. I will continue to push for access to lactation services and postpartum care, especially among low income women, and I will be working with our incoming senator to develop a binational health plan to address health crises along the US- Mexico border.”
HD: I’ve seen recent COVID-19 numbers in Texas total 3,759 daily new cases, what do you think has caused this downward trend in positive cases?
LO: “The Governor was slow to implement face coverings and close down bars and other businesses, and now that those measures are in place, I think that this helped with slowing the spread of the virus. We have had a serious issue in Texas with delays in getting the results, which could be a reason why we aren’t seeing as many positive cases.”
HD: How has Hurricane Laura impacted health care, especially during COVID-19?
LO: “I am aware of what is happening in central Texas, the fact that there has been two public health emergencies making it difficult for people to adhere to the best measures to prevent COVID-19 when people are having to leave their home. People are not getting tested and there is a delay in the results being processed making it difficult to track what is happening in that area.”