Arguing that the border region has unique healthcare needs and concerned about an outbreak of Zika, state Sen. Eddie Lucio passed legislation earlier this year to set up a task force of border health officials.

On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appointed Lucio to that task force. The group is charged with submitting recommendations to the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) commissioner for short-term and long-term plans to address top border health issues, including diabetes, obesity, and communicable diseases, such as Zika and tuberculosis.

Senate Bill 1680 allows the task force to collaborate and cooperate with Mexican counterparts to improve border health. It requires the composition of the task force to include health department directors from each county along the border and each municipality in the border region that has a sister city in Mexico.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.

Also on the task force will be two ex-officio nonvoting members who are members of the legislature, one appointed by the lieutenant governor and appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives. The task force can also have additional members appointed by the commissioner. The commissioner designates a chair and vice chair of the task force from among the task force members.

“I am honored to be joining the local health experts from our border counties in this extraordinary endeavor as we address pressing health impediments that plague the most vulnerable and susceptible populations in the state,” Lucio, D-Brownsville, said, in a news release.

Lucio said SB 1680 came about following “critical meetings” with local health officials following the localized Zika outbreaks that occurred in Cameron County in late 2016.

“This is a golden opportunity for our border communities to be able to inform our leaders in Austin of the public health problems and health impediments that we see on a daily basis,” Lucio said. “We will be reporting on numerous important factors such as those that impede access to health care, including socioeconomic conditions, linguistic and cultural barriers, and lack of health insurance.”

Health directors along the border have long argued for clear communication and coordination between the DSHS and local health departments in border counties. They say this would better assist the healthcare needs of border residents and help reduce any further potential public health risks.

“Building on Texas’ first localized Zika case, where local county and health officials led the response for the state and nation, the task force allows local health officials, who are seeing and treating these illnesses, as well as coordinating the response, to communicate their first-hand insight in an official capacity to health officials in DSHS,” Lucio’s news release states.

Lucio added: “This Task Force will allow the border counties, from El Paso County to Cameron County, to participate in the plans, have a voice in the conversations, and take the lead in the responses they know their county desperately needs. This Task Force will bring the challenges and concerns of these regions in the international border with Mexico to the forefront and provide real problems in order for meaningful solutions to flourish.”