TYLER, Texas — Hospitals and small clinics are working hard to bring in specialists to East Texas so the community doesn't have to travel far for the care they need.
From hospitals to small clinics, the health care industry in East Texas is growing.
“We just are not a healthy part of the state or the nation,” said Tom Mullins, former Tyler Economic Development Council president and CEO.
But that growth comes with a high need.
“And then it gets worse if you took those 35 counties and made them the 51st state of the nation, we'd be at the bottom,” Mullins said.
Mullins explained East Texans are leading the state with higher rates of stroke, heart disease, cancers, diabetes and obesity.
That's one of the reasons he's worked with the UT System to bring a medical school to East Texas.
“This school will train people from technicians and nurses to full-fledged medical doctors to provide services to that needy population. Then hopefully, (we’ll) bring up the negative numbers and get us off the bottom and make us more healthy,” Mullins said.
It's one of the long-term solutions UT Health East Texas has in store for its facility.
This new medical school aims to train the future doctors and nurses that will provide care for local community members.
In the meantime, Thomas Cummins, UT Health East Texas chief medical officer, said a new internship program will provide hands-on training for nursing students in the area.
“We just recently started a nursing extern program in partnership with UT Tyler, which brings in nursing students and allows them to get clinical training and clinical hours and in turn we hire them back as graduate nurses,” Cummins said.
And it's not just education.
UT Health East Texas recently expanded its cardiac plaza -- providing education and care for one of the biggest health issues in the community.
Earlier this year, a new neonatal intensive unit was unveiled, giving an option for new parents with premature babies.
Down the street, Christus Trinity Mother Frances is also expanding.
“It's harder to get health care literally when you leave Smith County,” Ministry President Jason Proctor said.
Proctor said their emphasis is providing care to hard-to-reach areas in East Texas.
“We look at where our patients live, we look at the zipcodes of where they come from. We say look, that's a place where we need better access,” Proctor said.
He said another emphasis is finding ways to provide care for patients coming in with heart disease and cancer.
“Patients were getting cancer and having to go to Houston or Dallas or some far-off place. And now that we have those services here, they stay here,” Proctor said.
The Northeast Texas Cancer and Research Institute is brand new and it's a collaboration with Christus Health and Texas Oncology to bring specialized cancer care to our region.
Another area of growth the hospital system has seen is its children's services through the Children's Miracle Network.
“We have a very busy NICU. We do pediatric surgery. We're the only pediatric surgery program in the whole region,” Proctor said. “Here's a lot of stuff that goes on with kids around here and CMN really helps that.”
Both health systems agree. Their goal is to provide consistent care to meet the needs of East Texans, where they live so they don't have to leave the region.
While UT Health East Texas and Christus Trinity Mother Frances won't turn away any patient in need of care, there are services in East Texas that provide low-cost health care for the uninsured.
The Bethesda Health Clinic, a nonprofit in Tyler, is just one example. Learn more about the services they provide at bethesdaclinic.org.