Starr County has a new local health authority just a few days after Dr. Jose Vazquez resigned from his post over a disagreement regarding compensation.
Dr. Antonio Falcon, 68, accepted the role and was sworn in during a special commissioners court meeting Friday, after the county commissioners unanimously voted to appoint him.
He replaces Vazquez who held the position for 10 years but who abruptly resigned on Monday after the majority of the county commissioners rejected a proposal by Starr County Judge Eloy Vera to grant him a contract that would raise his $6,000 annual compensation to $120,000.
During that Monday commissioners meeting, Commissioner Eloy Garza said he had already been in contact with Falcon who had offered to take the job for free.
During Friday’s meeting, Garza questioned Falcon on his qualifications for the public’s ears.
When Garza asked if he would have the time necessary to fulfill his duties as the health authority, Falcon said he would have to redirect some of his time toward the county’s efforts.
“Some … that know me well, know that I am not a hands-on person, I like to delegate,” Falcon said, “and I think that I can do it quite easily.”
Both Garza and Vera noted they’ve known Falcon for many years and were certain of his capabilities.
“I’m pretty sure, based on my experience — you’ve been my doctor for, I don’t know how many years, and we’ve been personal friends,” Garza said, “and I know that you have the capability and the connections with the governor’s office.”
Falcon assured he would work with the commissioners when it came to health recommendations and immediately suggested a focus on the elderly, especially as schools are on the verge of re-opening.
“I’m hoping to maybe start a little campaign with the school kids so that they can go to their grandparents and parents and say ‘mom you can’t do this’ and ‘mom you can’t do that,'” Falcon said. “Anything that we can do to help decrease the numbers and get into a better overall situation.”
Following Falcon’s swearing in on Friday, Vera clarified that Falcon will continue to receive the $500 per month that Vazquez received.
“That’s not a salary,” Vera said in Spanish during a news conference. “That’s only because we need to have a contract and we need a doctor.”
“It’s a token amount just to have the contract,” Vera added, though Falcon said he would donate the entirety of the $500 to Starr County Memorial Hospital for the purchase of medicine.
Born in Edinburg, Falcon has lived in Starr County for 43 years.
He served on the Rio Grande City school board for nine years, the hospital board for six years and other state and federal boards.
Though wanting to help the county, Falcon said he doesn’t intend to hold the title for very long.
“This is a real critical time and I hope to stay a few months but I don’t want to do this permanently,” Falcon said. “I was mostly wanting for the county not to be without a health authority during these very difficult times.”
The health authority is a physician appointed to administer state and local laws relating to public health within an appointing body’s jurisdiction, according to the Department of State Health Services.
They are considered an officer of the state when performing duties to implement and enforce laws that protect the public’s health.
Vazquez juggled those responsibilities with managing his own practice and his duties as the board president for Starr County Memorial Hospital.
He spearheaded and advised on the county’s efforts to mitigate the virus’ spread even before a single case popped up in Starr County and was tasked with staying on top of how the disease was affecting the community.
Vazquez was also key in acquiring the county’s drive-thru testing site in March which, at the time, was the Rio Grande Valley’s only COVID-19 testing site available to the public.
Vera praised Vazquez for his work, thanked him, and wished him the best.
“I certainly agree with that, judge,” Falcon said. “He did put a lot of effort into this over the last several months.”
“He should be recognized for all that hard work and that effort,” Falcon said.