Dueling Docs

The city's top MDs collide, but the mayor sides with Shelley

Edwards makes it clear who she considers to be the city's top doc.

"Like I told [Sekula-Gibbs], she is not the one I'm holding responsible for public health care in this city, and she is not the one responsible for developing prevention modalities. Dr. Kendrick is, and that's who I go to."

Alvarado says she has not decided whether to support the reopening of Riverside as an FQHC. But she is unhappy about the way Sekula-Gibbs and the mayor handled the matter.

"The first I heard there were serious discussions and action taking place was at the council table, when Haines said they had been working with Shelley. Ada and I looked at each other in amazement." Alvarado says community leaders as well as the district councilmembers should have been consulted in advance.

She shares Edwards's concerns that preventive care will suffer under the FQHC approach. "That clinic and the services it provided -- particularly preventive care -- are crucial. It has to be included and tailored to meet the needs of the Third Ward community."

Sekula-Gibbs counters that both Kendrick and the district councilmembers are wrong in claiming that preventive care can't fit into a federal clinic.

"There is no loss of service," she insists. "Somewhere along the line a misunderstanding about a loss of service came in, and that is certainly not the case. The services will be incredibly expanded."

The councilwoman also notes that a federally supported clinic is required to have a board of directors made up of a majority of members who are patients or clients of the clinic.

"This is an essential way for the community to stay in control," says Sekula-Gibbs. "That's different from a city clinic, where the community can express their opinions but at the end of the day the city runs the clinic."

Brown is not the only ally Sekula-Gibbs has in her corner on the FQHC issue. Montrose Clinic director Katy Caldwell, a former county treasurer with political experience, says her agency is applying for FQHC status. She can't understand why the city wouldn't reach out for federal health care dollars.

"I'm sorry, but I don't get it," Caldwell says after hearing a summary of the opposing position. She notes that under Houston's public health system, preventive care isn't working all that well.

"Why do we have some of the lowest immunization rates in the country?" asks Caldwell. "And why do we have some of the highest rates of communicable diseases in the country?

"Is it better to not have anything than some form of primary and preventative care? If this gets Riverside open, you're going to have both."

The Insider diagnoses the latest top doc dispute as a symptom of a dreaded bureaucratic disease: turfitis. Even councilmembers critical of Sekula-Gibbs concede that Kendrick's opposition is at least partially motivated by her fear of losing control of the clinics.

It may be hard for some folks to swallow, but Dr. Shelley's prescription seems to be the only course of treatment guaranteed to bring the Riverside Clinic back to life.

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