MONIQUE BATSON: Port Arthur Health Department, director have been a blessing during pandemic

Published 12:26 am Friday, April 30, 2021

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Anyone who works in media can tell you there are several communications directors and public information officials that do not seem to comprehend the meaning of the words “public” and “information.”

There are times when trying to get relevant info from a source is harder than prying the cell phones from the hands of my teenage boys.

But that has never been the case with Port Arthur Health Director Judith Smith. In fact, anytime I’m working on an article that requires her participation, I instantly breathe a sigh of relief.

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I know she will not only answer the phone as soon as I call, but she will spend as long as necessary answering questions. If she doesn’t have the answer, she’s back to me with it within minutes. She always speaks with a kind, soft voice.

Meanwhile, she is running the health department for the entire city during a pandemic.

And, as recently noted by former councilman Harold Doucet, it’s a department that has gone above and beyond to get as many people as possible vaccinated.

“During the pandemic, I followed closely when it came time for vaccinations because I wanted to get one,” Doucet told council members during Tuesday’s meeting. “It was hard for people to get appointments. Once our health department started getting vaccines, it was easy. What makes our staff and volunteers unique is the fact that they were not only giving the vaccine to people that have appointments, but they never turn anyone away.”

Doucet went before the council to request a proclamation to recognize the health department, Smith, the staff and the volunteers.

“As you all know, I don’t believe in giving people credit and compliments for doing the job they’re paid to do,” he said. “During the freeze, they got out, they went to the Civic Center, they opened it up and continued to give vaccines to citizens. This is what is considered beyond what is expected. All of the people in our city that have wanted to get vaccinated have had the opportunity.”

And it was a process I personally found to be much easier than I expected.

Having had COVID-19 earlier this year, I was required to wait a certain amount of time before I was eligible for a vaccine. But I had the day ­— April 16 — circled on my desk calendar with a red heart as if it were my anniversary.

As it has been for a lot of people, the isolation from the last year has been unbearable at times. The idea that I would rejoin the world and return to a semi-normal life with my kids was beyond intoxicating. Not to mention, having had the virus, I wasn’t about to play catch with that again.

On April 16 I took my lunch break to go to the Civic Center in preparation for my shot. I was so nervous about the possibility of not getting it that I brought my license, my passport and, almost, my birth certificate.

I walked in with no wait, needed only my ID, had a needle in my arm within five minutes and was back at the office 15 minutes later.

Sure, the next day it felt like I had been lifting elephants with my left arm and I was a bit tired through the weekend, but I’m a 40-year-old single parent with a full-time job. Tired is just part of my personality now.

While the vaccine hub has moved to the Texas Art Museum (TAMS) building at 3501 Cultural Drive, it is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and expects to stay in operation through the fall. If you’ve been waiting, now is the perfect time to take your shot.

Monique Batson is Port Arthur Newsmedia editor. She can be reached at