2020 Crown Communities winner: Harris County, Texas, Precinct 2’s ACCESS2HEALTH SmartPod
Precinct 2 of Harris County, Texas, implemented a medical college’s innovative epidemiological technology to bring COVID-19 testing to its vulnerable residents. However, the precinct’s initiative and this technology could influence pandemic response across the country.
Of all four precincts in Harris County, Texas, Precinct 2 has the lowest median life expectancy, the highest percentage of residents without health insurance and accounts for over a quarter of the county’s hospital emergency department visits. Additionally, nearly all of Precinct 2 is comprised of medically underserved areas, or healthcare deserts.
As the novel coronavirus pandemic was spreading in March 2020, Harris County Precinct 2 wanted a way to provide COVID-19 diagnostic testing and other healthcare services to its residents. With minimal healthcare accessibility in its area, Harris County Precinct 2 decided to form a partnership with Texas’ Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and finance the first deployment of BCM’s SmartPod technology specifically for COVID-19 in the U.S.
The SmartPod is a standardized facility that functions as an optimal one-stop solution for epidemics. Originally developed by BCM for Africa’s Ebola outbreak, the SmartPod expands into a 400-square-foot facility that is self-contained, fully-powered, capable of going off-grid, resistant to outside weather conditions and easily assembled and transported, according to the Houston Chronicle. Antimicrobial flooring, a patented UVC lighting system and HEPA filters within the SmartPod give it increased infection control.
“Harris County is home to the finest medical center in the nation. However, many residents of Precinct 2 cannot access services from The Texas Medical Center. My goal was to bring all the resources of the Texas Medical Center into our neighborhoods,” Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said in a statement.
Harris County Precinct 2 acquired two negative pressure SmartPods — which are both being called ACCESS2HEALTH — from Baylor Global Health, a subdivision of BCM. The precinct also worked out a contract with UHPhealth to provide doctor and nurse services at its ACCESS2HEALTH SmartPods through March 2021. Total project costs equaled just under $3 million, which came from the precinct’s budget. However, the Harris County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to allow Precinct 2 to use CARES Act dollars to offset the UHPhealth services’ cost.
The first ACCESS2HEALTH SmartPod completed development and came online in September 2020 and is located in Aldine, Texas. The second ACCESS2HEALTH SmartPod was announced on Feb. 10 (after the precinct had applied for the Crown Communities Awards), according to a tweet from Garcia’s office. That SmartPod is located in Pasadena, Texas.
The precinct’s ACCESS2HEALTH SmartPods are offering COVID-19 diagnostic testing at no cost for Harris County residents. In the future, they will be available to treat infectious diseases and other illnesses, according to a county news release.
“We can provide free access to health care services to places where they are needed most. It fills my heart with pride that Precinct 2 innovates in in ways that help traditionally underserved areas,” Garcia said in a statement.
Click here to view all six winners of American City & County’s 2020 Crown Communities Awards.