But the key organizer behind the plans says that many different ideas such as this one have been explored, as the group pursues its mission to bring access to higher-quality health to a vast region of West Texas and nearby New Mexico.
The group, known as the Permian Strategic Partnership (PSP), is a nonprofit founded by a coalition of some 19 leading oil and gas companies that operate in the Permian Basin. Their mission is to improve several quality-of-life issues for the workforce that makes up the energy industry-driven economy.
The four focus areas of the group include workforce development, infrastructure, education, and healthcare.
Overall, the PSP has directly invested $93 million into these focus areas within the Permian Basin, which they say has been strategically leveraged to create a total of $950 million in collaborative investments.
With a board composed of representatives of the member energy companies, the PSP is led by board Chairman Don Evans and CEO Tracee Bentley.
Evans has a record of leading several major energy industry companies and previously served as Secretary of Commerce during the administration of former President George W. Bush.
Before assuming her present position as president and CEO of the PSP, Bentley was the Executive Director of the Colorado Petroleum Council and held several advisory positions including deputy director of the Colorado Energy Office for Governor John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado).
The PSP partnered with several organizations, including local hospitals, universities, and other nonprofits like the Scarborough Foundation as they began to explore and identify what they believe are the future healthcare needs of the Permian Basin.
According to Bentley, a study commissioned by the group found what she describes as the most important healthcare issue needing to be addressed: the lack of access to behavioral and mental health care.
“The assessment also showed that we have some very high suicide, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse issues here,” Bentley said. “It also pointed out that we don’t have near enough resources to deal with those issues. So that being said, we needed to make that a top priority.”
Bentley said they were very excited about the $40 million in funding appropriated during the last legislative session to build a regional behavioral health hospital between the two cities, and one of their top priorities would be to secure the remaining estimated $45 million needed to begin building the facility.
The legislation, filed by Representative Tom Craddick (R-Midland), establishes a regional mental and behavioral health center to be located between Midland and Odessa that would be jointly governed by the Midland and Ector County Hospital Districts.
The second major issue identified was specialty care.
“Another thing that came out (of the assessment) was the lack of access to specialty care,” Bentley explained. “And if you live here, you know that over 45 percent of Permian Basin residents leave the region to go seek specialty care, and that number is incredibly high. Higher than most any other area and that’s not acceptable.”
Bentley stated that the specialty care needs of the region include cardiology, pediatrics, and cancer, but added it would be tricky to bring more resources to the area and get them to stay sustainably.
The third priority area identified Bentley says is telehealth and emergency medical services to the region’s rural areas.
“We are not utilizing telehealth, technology, and capabilities to the full advantage of the Permian, Bentley said, “so how can we get more rural hospitals connected with the Midland Odessa area so that they can share resources, share doctors, and make it affordable and efficient for everybody?”
Bentley says their partner energy companies are frustrated when oil and gas workers face injuries in remote locations, regularly taking hours before first responders arrive.
“So there has to be a better way for us to get them the critical care that they need in a timely fashion,” Bentley said, describing how the various logistics of this issue are part of what the PSP is studying.
Asked about whether there was any consensus of direction within the PSP regarding ideas the organization has considered, Bentley said that there is as it relates to priorities, but when it comes to a “healthcare hub” plan that includes an academic medical center, there has yet to be any decision made.
“I think time will tell and more studying will say if we were to have a healthcare hub of any sort does it really make sense for our region that we have the research component? Do we have enough here? Does it really make sense then that we have a hospital component, that maybe the research makes good sense, but do we need additional beds? I mean, those are the kind of things that have yet to be determined.”
“Our vision and dream, and I think it’s everybody’s, is to have top-notch world-class education in health care here, so that people say I want to move to the Permian not just because they’re a great energy resource, but because they have the best schools, and they have the best health care. That’s our ultimate goal,” Bentley added.
Looking forward, Bentley says they have heard from “leadership in Austin” that one of their major focuses will be mental health this coming year. She also says the PSP feels like they are in a strong position to partner with the state “in a very large way” on this issue.
Locally, Bentley says that Odessa and Midland residents need not be worried about anything that might upend their downtown planning in each community, responding to news reports that the PSP had a plan to close the current hospitals.
“You will not see us supporting anything that would ever hurt downtown Odessa or downtown Midland because that is counterproductive to what we’re trying to do,” Bentley said, adding that it is important as they seek to tackle these major issues, to keep the goal of service to the larger region in mind.
“I think it’s important that we start thinking more as a region and instead of as individual cities and as individual towns because when we combine our knowledge, our skills, and our resources, we can do big, big things together.”
Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.
Matt Stringer is a reporter for The Texan who writes about all things government, politics, and public policy. He graduated from Odessa College with an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Leadership. In his free time, you will find him in the great outdoors, usually in the Davis Mountains and Big Bend region of Southwest Texas.