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Brewster County Health Authority Steps Down, Officials Begin Search For Replacement

Sally Beauvais
Marfa Public Radio

Brewster County’s local health authority, Dr. Ekta Escovar, has formally stepped down from her role, which she’s held for the last seven months.

Dr. Escovar's work included guiding the region’s response to the pandemic, providing regular updates to local officials and helping maintain Brewster County's daily coronavirus dashboard that tracks the number of cases and hospitalizations.

"Dr. Escovar has been acting as Brewster County Local Health Authority for the last seven months and has done an excellent job maintaining that position, through these difficult past few months during the COVID-19 Pandemic," read a statement from Brewster County Judge Eleazar Cano.

As the county's health authority, Dr. Escovar, a pediatrician at Big Bend Regional Medical Center, offered her expertise and guidance on how the tri-county area should prepare for the spread of the COVID-19 and how to deal with potential hot spots of the disease.

“We’d rather plan for the worst and hope for the best, and be prepared in case we do see it in West Texas,” Dr. Escovar said in early March, urging residents to take precautions.

Since then, cases have continued to crop up in Far West Texas, including an outbreak of COVID-19 in the Alpine area.

Dr. Escovar has told colleagues and coworkers she's decided to step down as the health authority because she needed more time to focus on providing pediatric care, which is what she's been doing ever since she moved out to Far West Texas.

The county's health authority is an unpaid position and has remained empty since Dr. Escovar's resignation on Monday. Since then the county has not updated its daily coronavirus dashboard it posts on the county's Facebook page. The last update was on Sept. 26.

It's unclear exactly when local officials will appoint a long-term replacement. But in the immediate, the Department of State Health Services— the agency that directly communicates with local health authorities— says the agency’s regional medical doctor will take on the role.

Dr. Rachel Sonne, who's based out of El Paso, will now communicate directly with Judge Cano and other appropriate local officials.

Marfa Public Radio reached out to Cano for comment multiple times but didn't hear back from his office. But, the Brewster County Judge told the Alpine Avalance this week that a search is underway to fill the vacancy.

"It's a loss that we experienced with Dr. Escovar resigning, and it will be difficult to fill because it's such a delicate position to be in," Cano told the Avalanche. "You get to help, but you also get a lot of negative feedback."

The local health authority position, as one doctor told Marfa Public Radio, is a "thankless job" — the workload is heavy and the role of the public health authority can place you on the receiving end of hateful, vitriolic harassment from vocal crowds who oppose shutdowns, face-covering requirements and other pandemic precautions.

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.