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The coalition of 17 energy companies known as the Permian Strategic Partnership has invested $41 million in healthcare initiatives.

This represents 44% of the $93 million in contributions to West Texas and Southeast New Mexico for health care, education, labor, housing, traffic safety and support for initiatives.

These healthcare initiatives include $12.8 million for a surgery and sub-specialty residency at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and $10.7 million for a nursing and pre-medical program at the University of Texas Permian Basin.

Other programs include $2.3 million for counseling and guidance, $2.5 million for the TTUHSC program at Midland College and $5.9 million for a TTUHSC family medicine residency program and 800,000 $ for mobile clinics. The PSP’s annual report includes sections on investing in healthcare education to reduce the 1,000 nursing vacancies in the Permian and on growing ‘our own’ surgeons and specialists to help address the the “regional shortage” of cardiologists and gastroenterologists and increase the number of residents working in regional hospitals.

“National statistics indicate that up to 60% of trained residents will stay within 50 miles of the region in which they completed a residency to establish their medical practice,” the annual report states. “By supporting this (residency) program, PSP seeks to strengthen the pool of physicians for hospitals in our region.

As PSP Executive Director Tracee Bentley said in an interview with the Reporter-Telegram, an assessment pointing to gaping holes in Midland-Odessa showed that “nearly 50% of people leave the region for health care, in particular for specialty reasons”.

“We don’t have great access to specialty care here,” Bentley said.

What about caring for those who cannot leave?

One of the reasons why the PSP, the Scharbauer Foundation and the members of the two hospital districts of Midland and Odessa communicated on the evaluation and potentially on the continuation (tomorrow and in 20 years) improves the access to quality health care in the Permian Basin.

A medical complex that combines the resources of both cities can help achieve the goal of making Midland-Odessa a healthcare destination and perhaps even a “world-class” destination, but the assessment and action stems are important because what’s in place should be better, Bentley said.

Bentley stated the obvious – there is no “level 1” trauma care facility in Midland-Odessa.

“We don’t even have Tier 2 anymore,” Bentley said. “If you need level 1 care, you’re probably going to be airlifted to Lubbock and sometimes people don’t have that kind of time. So we are looking at what level of trauma care is appropriate for our region. And then how to get what it will cost us? What do we need to reach this level of trauma?

She said the lack of specialist surgeons and doctors is one reason why a Tier 1 center is not in Midland-Odessa.

“We’ve been funding healthcare initiatives long before we started this assessment,” Bentley said of the $41 million the PSP has spent on healthcare. “Even if this transformative healthcare center does not eventually come to fruition, the things we will accomplish along the way are in themselves monumental. … We’re still going to definitely improve access to behavioral health and definitely provide more access to specialty areas. And we’re definitely going to improve in our telemedicine because that’s another area that’s come out where we need to do a lot of work.

And it will help the health care of those working at remote job sites in the Permian Basin. Bentley said that due to the remoteness and outdated systems that exist, emergency response is not always effective. And improving health care means focusing beyond the health care offered in hospitals in Midland and Odessa.

What can and cannot be done

Bentley said initial reports on the valuation and what the PSP and other entities were considering were premature. She said they led people to make assumptions about facilities and other misplaced things while decisions weren’t made because officials are still processing information.

This information includes:

  • What investment could the state make?
  • Could voters in Midland and Odessa support the concept of a medical complex for the 21stst century and beyond;
  • What kind of support would come from the University of Texas and Texas Tech Health Sciences Center system;
  • Which would be part of the medical complex.

The latter includes the obvious. If a more central location was deemed necessary, what would that mean for residents of East Midland County and West Ector County. Those interviewed for this article said facilities would be needed in the heart of metropolitan areas for emergency care. Officials also suggested that there would be other scenarios where the geography would require care to stay within the respective city centers.

“Maybe the answer is coming back and it’s just too long for the Permian to host something like that,” Bentley said. “But at least we know. And at least we did our homework. And, so, we can look everyone in the eye and say, “We’ve done our homework, and we’ve found that’s just not doable here. But if it is? … No one is saying this is all inevitable, except the behavioral health center.