Williamson County allocates federal dollars for breast cancer treatment, COVID-19 tests, court staff

Williamson County Courthouse
Williamson County Commissioners Court approved three items related to how the county will use federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act during its Jan. 11 meeting. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Williamson County Commissioners Court approved three items related to how the county will use federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act during its Jan. 11 meeting. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include data from Williamson County EMS.

Williamson County Commissioners Court approved three items related to how the county will use federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act during its Jan. 11 meeting.

Breast cancer care for uninsured residents

County commissioners unanimously approved an agreement with United Way for Greater Austin to fund treatment for uninsured residents of Williamson County who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Under the Social Services Funding Agreement, Williamson County will distribute up to $2.1 million of ARPA funding to United Way for these services from Nov. 11, 2022 through Dec. 3, 2024.



Precinct 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long said this is a pilot program to identify breast cancer in uninsured and underinsured women sooner, which she said will lead to lower treatment costs and better outcomes for the women.

According to county documents, Lone Star Circle of Care, a nonprofit community health center, was originally going to manage the breast cancer program. However, they recommended United Way for Greater Austin to oversee the program.

Under the arrangement, United Way will contract with Lone Star for screening, case management and some medical care, while United Way will handle contracting with oncologists and other health care providers, according to the documents.

“If I serve four full years as county judge and the only thing I accomplish is to help one lady discover that she has breast cancer and we can help her get treatment and it saves her life—I couldn’t maybe have made a difference in the 606,000 other [residents], but I made a difference in that one,” County Judge Bill Gravell said. “This is an easy vote for me.”

COVID-19 test kits for county employees

As the omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the community, commissioners court unanimously approved spending up to $55,000 to purchase 7,500 test kits for county employees.

Emergency Management Director Michael Shoe said the county is using about 1,000 tests a week to ensure first responders, 911 operators, jail personnel, juvenile services staff and health district employees are healthy when they report to work and interact with the community.

Considering the 1,500 tests the county has on hand, this additional supply will last about eight weeks, Shoe said.

During the Jan. 11 meeting, Gravell said the county is short in EMS staff and is having to prioritize where trucks are located throughout the county.

In a Jan. 11 email, Williamson County said 11 paramedics were out due to COVID-19. Additionally, in a Jan. 6 statement, the county told Community Impact Newspaper both EMS and the sheriff’s office have employees out sick with coronavirus.

“We are adjusting our staffing to staff ambulances. The specific number [of paramedics out with COVID-19] changes each day as we clear paramedics from isolation and have others that report positive tests,” EMS said in the Jan. 6 email. “We follow [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines for exposure and return to work for health care providers.”

Williamson County has had to close several county offices due to staffing shortages. All tax office lobbies will be closed Jan. 12 and the Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace office was closed Jan. 6-7 for this reason.

Additional staff in the county attorney’s office

Commissioners also budgeted $1.3 million of ARPA funding for four new positions in the Williamson County Attorney’s Office—one civil attorney and three intake prosecutors—to assist with the court backlog.

This funding will cover the positions’ salaries and operating expenses from Jan. 1, 2022 until Dec. 31, 2024.

By Claire Shoop

Reporter, Sugar Land/Missouri City

Claire joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2019 as the reporter for the Sugar Land/Missouri City edition and in December 2021 moved to Austin to become the reporter for the Northwest Austin edition. She graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in May 2019 where she studied journalism, government and Arabic. While in school, Claire was a fellow for The Texas Tribune, worked for the student newspaper, The Daily Texan, and spent a semester in Washington, D.C. She enjoys playing cards with her family and listening to the Boss, Bruce Springsteen.