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UT Health Science Center seeks approval for big changes

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(staff photo by Herb Nygren) (staff photo by Herb Nygren)
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EAST TEXAS (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - There may be big changes in store for East Texans in terms of mental health care services and access to primary care services if The University of Texas System Board of Regents approves measures proposed by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.

This week Regents are on the campus of the hospital for its regular meeting, which began today and will conclude Thursday. Regular Board of Regents meetings occur in February, May, July, August, November and December. This is the first time they've convened in Tyler since November 2000.
The health science center plans to secure a vacant building located at 2235 W. Gentry Parkway in Tyler to be used as a multi-purpose clinic with educational and meeting spaces. The 25,944-square foot building would be secured for 10 years with an option to extend the lease another 10 years.

The lease and estimated operating expenses would cost the center $1.4 million and an additional $3.1 million in renovation costs.

Dr. Kirk Calhoun, president of the health science center, said with pending Regents approval, he expects the clinic to be open within six months to one year.

"We have been looking for an opportunity to better serve the north Tyler community for a very long time," Calhoun said. "This property became available and we're asking the Regents permission to secure a long term lease there. We know we will be providing medical services at that location but we really want to consult with the community and others before deciding which services will best serve north Tyler."

Calhoun said the center's officials would be talking with community leaders, use in-house surveys and data provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services to identity services needed in that area. He said some of the issues already recognized is the need for community members to have access to primary, urgent and pediatric services.

UT Health Science Center currently has clinic facilities in Gladewater and Overton and a residency training program in Longview's Good Shepherd Medical Center.

"We did not want to go into a community that was already being served," Calhoun said. "We know north Tyler has needs and we want to be there to help meet those needs."

The health science center could also enter into an agreement with DSHS as they aim to provide mental health services to Rusk State Hospital patients.

Not only will these services fill a gap for the state hospital, but it will also bring more mental health services to the health science center.

Calhoun said they plan to open a small unit at the health science center called the Cognitive Impairment Unit to serve patients with dementia. They also plan to expand mental health education for residents at the center and employ medical staff at Rusk State Hospital.

"This is another opportunity for two state agencies to come together to address the needs of Texans," Calhoun said, noting that he also serves on the State Health Services Council.

Among other changes the health science center will make if Regents approve them is a rebranding, starting with its name. Calhoun noted that the center sees patients from 146 Texas counties, underscoring the need to have a shorter, more straightforward name.

"Our name is and always will be The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, but to give people a simpler handle to attach to us, we've asked the Regents to allow us to use UT Health-Northeast."

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have both used UT Health Houston and UTMB Health, respectively, for business purposes.

The Regents are expected to wrap up business by 1:15 p.m. Thursday.
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