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STEPHEN HEMELT — Gulf Coast looks to bring more testing to Port Arthur

Dr. Marsha Thigpen said she would like to get a tent outside the Gulf Coast Health Center building on Memorial Boulevard in Port Arthur, hopefully, a drive-thru tent to facilitate COVID-19 testing for local residents.

The CEO and executive director of Gulf Coast said the health provider is continuing to purchase personal protective equipment, providing additional training for staff and eyeing more outreach in the community.

“We’re hoping we will contribute to the amount of testing that is going to be done because the word is if we increase the testing, we might be able to get a handle on this disease,” Thigpen told me Friday morning.

That’s great news for area residents looking for health options, especially those in poorer economic situations.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn announced Thursday that Gulf Coast Health Center in Port Arthur was awarded a $392,044 federal grant to help expand the range of testing and testing-related activities with respect to coronavirus.

The funding, which was appropriated by Congress in April, comes through the Department of Health and Human Services.

Thigpen said whenever Gulf Coast receives funding, its board of directors has to approve expenditures. The administration is currently working up a budget to present to the board at the next meeting.

Gulf Coast has been in existence for more than 30 years with a mission to provide quality health care to the medically underserved.

“We would like the patients to keep looking to us,” Thigpen said. “We started telemedicine during this pandemic and many of our visits are done either through Zoom, where there is a face-to-face component, or on the telephone, but we want the community know we are here and would like to help in any way we can.”

Gulf Coast, 2548 Memorial Blvd., has anti-body testing in-house, but anyone that tests positive is also backed up with a PCR test.

Thigpen said Gulf Coast does its PCR testing through a lab in Texas that has assured local officials it can handle up to 40 a week.

“Right now, we’re doing about 10 (tests) a week,” she said. “Once the local area testings shut down, then our testing numbers will pick up.”

Gulf Coast Health Center picked up some unwanted local notoriety in late March when the Memorial Boulevard campus closed for several weeks following confirmation that an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

Thigpen stresses those concerns have been alleviated, noting her “stellar staff” made changes in their activity with dental staff members only doing emergency procedures and repurposing their efforts to help in other areas.

“All of our staff are wearing masks for protection,” Thigpen said. “We take our temperatures daily. When we reopened and came back to work, 99 percent of our staff came right back to work. I am very proud of our staff.”

This week’s funding jolt was the second major award received by Gulf Coast in the past two months after a $101,744 grant was approved in March through the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Beside the Memorial Boulevard campus, the health center’s other local location is 601B Rev. Ransom Howard St. in Port Arthur.

Gulf Coast recently initiated telemedicine appointments allowing providers to prescribe medication that can be picked up at a local pharmacy. Gulf Coast has contracts with Walgreens and Walmart in Port Arthur.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher of The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at stephen.hemelt@panews.com and 409-721-2445.