In his announcement video for governor, Beto O’Rourke made it clear that, unlike Greg Abbott, he has a “bold vision” for Texas. And in these early days of his campaign there is one area that he is really hammering that point: healthcare.
Just hours after launching his bid for governor, O’Rourke was on the road. His first campaign stop was in Fort Stockton for a rural healthcare roundtable where he met with several local leaders and doctors. The roundtable highlighted many of the escalating challenges for rural healthcare in Texas, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, rural healthcare was in a crisis. Over the past decade, 27 rural hospitals in Texas have closed. There are 74 counties in the state without a hospital. According to a recent survey from the Texas Observer, more than half the counties of the state do not have an OB-GYN.
At the roundtable in Fort Stockton, O’Rourke heard firsthand from a doctor about just how badly COVID-19 impacted rural communities. Dr. Auden Velasquez told O’Rourke about the harrowing weeks earlier this summer when COVID-19 patients overwhelmed his hospital and partitions had to be constructed for another makeshift ward.
“At some point you don’t have the resources,” he recounted. Velasquez also noted that it was the first time in his career he had ever considered quitting.
Under Abbott’s leadership, over 73,000 Texans have died from COVID-19. Even as the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have decreased around the state, rural counties are dealing with higher proportions of deaths.
At a campaign stop on Tuesday in San Antonio, O’Rourke spoke at length about Abbott’s failures throughout the pandemic. Abbott has been consistent in his opposition to mask mandates in schools, and COVID-19 vaccination mandates even for private businesses. O’Rourke also brought up the tragic fact that Texas leads the country in children dying from COVID-19.
As O’Rourke continues to campaign around the state, healthcare in Texas remains a constant theme. In his announcement video, he mentioned that Texas has still not expanded Medicaid. Texas remains just one of twelve states with that dubious distinction. Nearly one out of five Texans lacks health insurance, and that number has surely climbed during the pandemic.
The list of failures Abbott has overseen in his tenure as our governor is lengthy. And when it comes to healthcare, it’s been deadly. O’Rourke is absolutely right to lead on healthcare and to show that a better Texas is indeed possible.
Original photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons