Kinney County EMS pushed to the limit with human smuggling cases

Strain is being felt across all parts of county

BRACKETVILLE, Texas – Kinney County’s emergency medical services is being pushed to the limit when it comes to human smuggling calls.

“I got 1,540 square miles that I serve with one station, one ambulance, one crew,” said Henry Garcia, director of EMS services for the county.

It’s a daunting task during a normal year.

“Before this whole border issue started, I averaged about 230, 235 calls a year,” Garcia said.

Unfortunately for his department, this year is anything but average.

“From January to present I have 486 calls on the books,” Garcia said.

Crews that used to work 48-hour shifts are now on the clock for 72 hours and Garcia said that is tied directly to human smuggling.

“There is a policy or a rule made by Border Patrol,” Garcia explained. “They won’t accept anyone that is in custody that has not been medically cleared.”

Garcia said he doesn’t put the blame on Border Patrol but he wishes the decision makers would understand what this does to his department.

EMS responds to nearly every smuggling call involving medical services -- from scratches caused by fences to road rash and serious crashes caused by pursuits.

“We’re pretty much met our maximum ability with the resources we have, and I don’t see an end to it,” Garcia said.

His worst fear is resources being tied up with a human smuggling case with no one available for a medical emergency in town in Brackettville.

“I hate to be responding to road rash on a knee when I’m needed on a major cardiac,” Garcia said.

There’s a price tag to respond to these calls, and it’s not being paid by the people EMS is treating.

“I would say over $40,000 of unbilled unpaid bills,” Garcia said. “Nobody takes ownership. And they come back as unqualified patient, invalid report.”

The issues Garcia is up against are multi-pronged, but he has faith that they’ll get through it.

“At some point in time, this too shall pass,” he said.

Garcia said Kinney County commissioners have given him permission to hire three additional EMTs to service the county, but he’s having no luck in getting anyone to apply.

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About the Authors

Leigh Waldman is an investigative reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

Gavin Nesbitt is a photojournalist and video editor who joined KSAT in September 2021. He has traveled across the great state of Texas to film, conduct interviews and edit many major news stories, including the White Settlement church shooting, Hurricane Hanna, 2020 presidential campaigns, Texas border coverage and the Spurs.

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