Summit Theme Closing the Health Gap

Identifying health care needs and gaps and how various organizations can come together to address these issues was the focus of Building the Basin, a summit of Permian Basin health workers on Tuesday at the Odessa Marriott and Conference Center.

Moderated by the executive director of the Midland Development Corporation, Sara Harris, it featured various panels, including one on recruitment and retention in the healthcare sector.

The recruitment and retention panel included officials from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, City of Odessa and Midland and executives from Medical Center and Midland Memorial hospitals and Permian Regional Medical Center in Andrews.

Midland Memorial President and CEO Russell Meyers said many people who work at the hospital are married or related to someone who works in the oil industry.

“If we can, we do our best to make it an attractive place…” Meyers said. “It’s amazing how many times people who left us for what they thought were greener pastures are eager to come back, because we’ve created positive work environments and a really good supportive community that “They don’t necessarily find themselves in a city of 4 million somewhere else. So emphasizing those things with people and trying to convince them to stay is a big part of what we do,” Meyers said.

He added that it’s important to continue to build a pipeline of people who are here. Meyers said he has made “huge investments in training entry-level nurses” and others who go to school here and graduate. They come to the hospital and still need a lot of specialized training.

“…We invest a lot of resources to ensure that their professional experience is the best possible so that they stay. The downside of that, of course, is that it makes them really attractive to guys in Houston and Dallas and other places that haven’t had to pay to train them. But we keep doing it anyway because we know we have to keep the pipeline going,” Meyers said.

Permian Regional Medical Center chief executive Donny Booth said they found people who grew up in this area were going to stay “because they know what they have here”.

“It’s an amazing community. The Permian Basin is unrivalled, in my opinion. I was born and raised basically here in the Permian Basin. But again, we see the same thing. They go. They leave for greener pastures and of course they turn around and come right back because they realize that these big metropolitan areas just can’t put their finger on the Permian Basin,” Booth said. .

Asked what can be done to highlight the strength of the Permian Basin, Midland Mayor Patrick Payton said when he first moved to Midland there were 99,000 people there.

“I used to refer to this place as Mayberry on speed. … But generational changes take place approximately every 18 to 20 years. … The other thing I was saying in the early 2000s and then around (2008, 2009 and 2010) we started to see fracking take off. The industry was changing from a mining industry to a manufacturing industry. It is therefore our entire Basin that has fundamentally changed, while becoming younger. And as harsh as that sounds, I think the biggest barrier to recruiting people is that we’re going to have to grow and act like a big city,” Payton said.

“We did research in the early 2000s on how many times a community is no longer solely dependent on one industry. In other words, it… can support itself with other industries. The number was 150,000, so now if you look at Midland and even look at Odessa combined, we’re around 300,000. Those are round numbers, but you’re 150,000 each,” Payton said.

At some point, people have to decide to grow, invest, and “own who we are,” Payton said.

“…We can bring them here as long as we want; let them watch sunsets and sunrises and say how beautiful it is. But until we start to embrace the fact that we are an outdoor community. We can do life in the outdoors… We’re going to build parks and we’re going to build trails for people to walk and ride and all these different things until we turn this corner and realize that we’re getting younger, we’ I’m not getting old and it’s going to be a political fight…” added Payton.

Odessa City Manager Michael Marrero noted that the city has invested a lot of money “in terms of infrastructure, in terms of investing in new facilities.”

“We’ve taken a step and worked with a partner to build this great facility,” Marrero said, referring to the Marriott. “I think it all contributes to the quality of life. …”

Downtown revitalization is not only intended to reinvest and redevelop it, but as a recruitment and retention tool.

Booth said telemedicine and telehealth have become vital during the pandemic, especially in rural communities where they have repeatedly struggled to get their patients to larger healthcare facilities.

“We were kind of forced into the role of telehealth/technology to be able to continue to provide quality care to these people. So I think going forward, based on what we’ve learned from the COVID pandemic, telehealth is going to become vital, especially in rural communities in the Permian Basin, as we continue to move forward with this model of health care,” Booth said.

Officials agreed that technology is now playing an important role in healthcare, especially during the pandemic.

Medical Center Hospital President and CEO Russell Tippin said the hospital has a robot dietitian in the hospital because dietitians are hard to find.

Dr. Timothy Benton, regional dean and professor at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in Odessa, said the healthcare system is incredibly complex and everyone needs to collaborate in communities.

A member of the public asked about the mega-hospital that was discussed between Odessa and Midland. The speaker expressed concern about the impact on rural hospitals and the medical centre.

Booth said cutting the number of beds in rural facilities wouldn’t make sense.

Meyers said MMH has been involved in the mega-hospital planning effort to varying degrees over time.

“…My view is that he is well intentioned. I think you heard a conversation earlier about the need for easier access to specialists (and) a vastly improved trauma system across the region. I think those things are laudable goals; laudable goals, and I think exactly how they will be achieved over time remains to be determined. But I think from my perspective, the people leading this conversation are extremely interested in improving health care for the region,” Meyers said.

“There’s a lot of self-interest in that. And clearly, you know that the energy industry is only going to thrive and grow if it can build its workforce and get people here and keep them here and achieve the vision that Mayor Payton talked about; take this next generational step to make it a destination… We need to move forward and do more to attract and retain these people. I think it’s motivated in the right way, whether that’s the mechanism that’s going to create it as a unique medical center, maybe even a new medical school…I think that’s still to be determined. We will stay at the influence table as best we can,” Meyers said.

Benton said the primary interest is the patient, the needs of the patient and maintaining what is in place now, but meeting the needs of the future.

Tippin said they need all kinds of healthcare workers, whether they’re lab techs, housekeepers, kitchen workers or doctors.

“…You can never get enough and I think that’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s just when you think you’ve had enough, you need five more,” said said Tippin.

He said he would like to add sub-specialties and is still working to do so. They listen to what people want, why they are traveling and if they are planning to travel, if this service is already there and they don’t know it.

Texas Tech assistant vice president for external relations Jessica Zuniga said the idea for the summit came from TTUHSC president Dr. Laurie Rice-Spearman.

The goal was to bring the community together and offer a glimpse of what the future holds for healthcare.

This is the first time that TTUHSC has organized something like this.

Benton said he thought the summit was incredibly helpful.

“… The complexity of the healthcare system is really huge. I don’t think there is a single entity capable of responding to this complexity to serve our people. We must associate; we have to collaborate…” Benton said.

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Midland Mayor Patrick Payton talks about the growth of the Permian Basin and how the region needs to own its growth and change during a roundtable on healthcare recruitment and retention Tuesday at the Odessa Marriott and Conference Center. (Ruth Campbell | American Odessa)

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Summit Theme Closing the Health Gap

Jessica C. Bell