West Texas School District Opens On-site Clinic

Associate Superintendent of Human Capital and Operations Anthony Sorola and Medical Plan Consultant Eric Smith listen as Director of Benefits & Risk Management Yolanda Gordon talks about the newly opened ECISD Wellness Center. (Ruth Campbell | Odessa American)

Wellness Center opens for ECISD

By Ruth Campbell – February 28, 2022

The ECISD Wellness Center, a long-sought addition to Ector County Independent School District’s employee benefit package, opened Monday at 221 N. Sam Houston Ave.

Available to district employees and dependents, it offers a wide range of services including acute care, chronic care and mental health counseling.

Currently, the clinic has a doctor, a nurse practitioner, two medical assistants and an office manager. It will have two more medical assistants and a mental health counselor, Director of Benefits & Risk Management Yolanda Gordon said.

“We’re very, very excited. With the assistance of our board of directors and our Medical Planning Committee, and of course, (Superintendent) Dr. (Scott) Muri, (and) our human resource team, it’s become a reality. We’re hoping to catch those medical conditions and do it as a preventative measure …,” Gordon said.

She added fliers and notifications with clinic hours are being sent to employees.

Eric Smith, the district’s medical plan consultant, predicted the clinic would see 50 to 60 patients a day on the medical side. When it is fully staffed, they will probably see about 20 patients a day on the mental health side.

Smith has worked with the district to get the clinic up and running for a while.

“It’s almost a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve been working with the district now for almost five years, and this is something we’ve been trying to do for the whole five years. … There’s a big need for what I’m going to call cost-effective access to care. And this is extremely cost effective. …”

The mental health piece, he and Gordon agreed, is a big deal.

“During the pandemic, access to mental health care has has been difficult … Their jobs are stressful enough. (With) the additional stressors of the pandemic, it’s made it that much worse …,” Smith said.

Gordon said this is hopefully the start of a much anticipated, more robust medical plan for staff members.

Gordon said the district is partnering with CareATC, which does the overall day-to-day management. Smith said CareATC has 171 clinics across the United States and there is only one in West Texas.

Superintendent Scott Muri said the clinic opening is exciting.

“It’s a great, proactive opportunity for our folks. We have 4,200 employees and if they’re a part of the insurance program, they’ll get to have access to this clinic free of charge,” Muri said.

“Certainly free and medical care usually don’t go in the same sentence. In this case they do. So (it’s) a great opportunity for our employees and we’re excited to be able to provide it. And it will be much more of a proactive opportunity, as well. So when you have that little ache or pain that you’re thinking, should I go and spend a bunch of money? Or could I go to the free clinic, hopefully, they’ll come here and have those early warning signs that sometimes we avoid, hopefully, they’ll have those addressed in this facility. But a great opportunity for our folks. We’re excited to be able to provide this,” Muri added.

He said they added providing mental health is huge.

“We added that. Back when we first started talking about this, it was medicine only,” Muri said.

But they recognized in today’s society as people continue to cope with COVID, they see the effect of trauma in the lives of students and staff.

“… To be able to provide that mental health support for our staff is a priceless opportunity. So medical care, as well as mental health care, all in one place free of charge for our folks,” Muri said.

Dr. Barbara Estment is the clinic physician. She has been with CareATC since August of last year.

Estment said access to care, which she said she thinks is a barrier in a lot of areas, will be of great help.

She added that different types of visits will be available via telephone, for example, which makes it easier for people who are off site to access care.

She added that they will try to focus on wellness, creating a healthy workforce and keeping patients from getting sick.

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There are some who procrastinate, though.

“We’re hoping to get on top of that kind of on top of their health and … to guide the patients” to the kind of things they could do.

Write: RiskManager@RiskManagers.us


Interesting concept.  4200 employees seems like the minimum you would need to make this work.  It would be more difficult to export this model to school districts where the staff is geographically far flung.  I assume this story is about a singular district in a city where it’s easy to get to it at a central location.  The employee satisfaction factor is probably positively way off the charts, which is very important.

Particularly if the ER usage for common problems is high, this will save a boat load of money.  If there are ample family practice and urgent cares around, this has the potential to become a huge cost center that might exceed the baseline FP and UC costs.

Another issue is whether or not school districts have the ability to manage this efficiently.  This example looks like they’ve farmed this out to a player who does this.  But, those costs can rise, especially if both the district and the contracted entity each have their own management hierarchy.  And then who deals with the liability issues (and the attendant PR issues) that result from a malpractice allegation?

In any case, interesting, and this probably plays well in certain environments after careful study shows that it’s a win/win for their employees and the district.  I question whether or not quasi-government entities can make this work over time.