Accidents up, resources stretched

Editor’s Note: Continued from last weeks article “Be careful what you wish for”.

The small building is home to OHSI, or Occupational Health Services International, a company that is making its mark in remote work areas. (VHA Photo | LM)
The small building is home to OHSI, or Occupational Health Services International, a company that is making its mark in remote work areas. (VHA Photo | LM)

By Gilda Morales

Imagine having difficulty breathing, having chest pain or even a broken limb or head injury from a car or work accident. Imagine having to wait 2 ½ hours for help to arrive, on a good day. That is the everyday reality for workers living in northern Culberson County. With the gas and oil business exploding, the population is exploding as well, with most of the transient workers living in “man-camps” throughout the area, including Orla.

According to a recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek, Aries Resident Suites, which has 11 locations spread out over North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Texas, will soon break ground on a 500-bed facility in Orla, Texas, a town with new oilfield activity. Many of the oil companies in the area, numbering more than 100, also provide housing for their employees. Given that most of the housing is double occupancy, the estimated population is at least as much as the Culberson County seat, Van Horn, which has a population of 1919.

Most accidents happening in northern Culberson County require first responders to travel nearly two hours to the site, regardless of the route they take—Highway 54 north toward Carlsbad or Interstate 10 to Pecos, and then north on Highway 285, known as “Death Highway.” Up to recently, first responders from Carlsbad, New Mexico, and Reeves County have helped out when possible, but that is no longer an option with EMS in those areas being taxed to the limit by their own exploding oilfield population and emergency runs.

A recent slew of oilfield deaths served to shine a spotlight on the seriousness of the lack of a timely response system in place to even transport the deceased, much less respond to sometime life-threatening situations. County Commissioners were lambasted at their last meeting by two oil company representatives who were appalled at the lack of even a vehicle that could be used to transport a body in a dignified manner.

The passionate rhetoric from the oil company representatives, along with a sobering and eye-opening presentation by Sheriff Oscar Carrillo about the lack of staffing available to respond to calls requiring a law enforcement presence, served as a wake-up call to commissioners, who have vowed to rectify the situation. The Culberson County Hospital District, the entity which uses tax revenues to run the local hospital, rural health clinic and EMS services, has been busy searching for a viable solution to a seemingly daunting situation.

County Judge Carlos Urias, Commissioners Raul Rodriguez and Gilda Morales, as well as Lisa Morton, from The Van Horn Advocate, made a stop at a facility that is the solution for some oilfield workers, on their way home from their fact-finding trip to northern Culberson County. Located approximately 6 miles east on Highway 302 from Highway 285 and blending in with acres of brown farmland in Mentone, Texas, a nondescript mobile home-turned-clinic could easily be missed by those not directly looking for it.

The small building is home to OHSI, or Occupational Health Services International, a company that is making its mark in remote work areas. OHSI is manned by at least three paramedics 24/7, with two paramedics usually taking EMS calls to areas that they hope will not take more than 45 minutes to reach. One paramedic stays behind at the clinic to treat walk-ins, and the only other employee is the dispatcher. This location is funded by four oil companies who contribute to its operation to ensure that their employees have the help they need when they need it.

A tour through the clinic revealed a digital x-ray machine, a lab capable of doing basic blood tests, a crash cart for cardiac emergencies, and a small pharmacy with the basic, most commonly used medications.

Outside, a carport houses two, brand-new, four-wheel-drive ambulances, or mobile ICUs, with the latest equipment ready for any emergency. When asked if the company had any problems staffing the facility 24/7 with qualified personnel, the answer was a resounding, “no!” The clinic does not just treat work accidents, or motor vehicle accidents, they also treat the common cold, provide flu vaccinations and accept insurance as payment. The clinic also services the healthcare needs of the residents of Loving County, population 50–services that are greatly appreciated.

According to Becky Brewster, CFO of the Culberson Hospital District, she and other hospital board members had made their own fact-finding trip to northern Culberson County and were familiar with OHSI. Interim hospital administrator, Gary Crane was asked if OHSI could be a viable option for providing emergency medical services to northern Culberson County, Mr. Crane replied that the district was looking at other, more cost-efficient and leaner operations. He added that the high cost of utilizing a company like OHSI, might not be the answer, especially given that there have only been an average of 12 EMS calls to that area in the last year.

Regardless of the direction the County and the Hospital District take to address providing law enforcement and EMS to northern Culberson County, the impetus is now there to move forward and find a quick solution before tragedy strikes.