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The face of TRUE rural healthcare

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A number of people at Thursday’s Planning and Zoning meeting bristled when the representative from Palm Development described Navasota as a rural healthcare market, and I was one of them.

I don’t fault Palm Development for being in the urgent care business, or for considering Navasota. My discomfort was actually calling it “rural healthcare” because I know what bringing healthcare to rural areas really looks like. It looks like Elizabeth Ellis, DNP, RN and the B.I.S. Clinic in Bedias!

In April 2017, The Examiner began following Ellis’ dream, which actually began seven years earlier, to open a clinic at the north end of Grimes County. Having worked in healthcare myself approximately 25 years and living in Bedias for 10 years with my husband who had a chronic terminal illness, I understood the financial risks and appreciated the significance of this noble undertaking.

In spite of Hurricane Harvey, the B.I.S. Clinic opened in September 2017. Ellis brought a wealth of experience from the UT Health Science Center, the Memorial Hermann System, the St. Joseph Regional Health system and her boots-on-the-ground experience opening and establishing outpatient clinics.

B.I.S. is privately funded by Ellis and husband James, which says a lot about this couple’s commitment to rural healthcare. Yes, the clinic accepts commercial insurance, Medicare and Medicaid but those familiar with insurance reimbursement rates know that’s not enough to cover the cost of the service and keep the lights on. Because health CARE is her business, B.I.S. put provisions in place for self-pay and the uninsured, and Grimes County’s Florence Nightingale also does home visits. Now that is rural healthcare!

Through Ellis’ efforts, the clinic is designated as a Rural Health Clinic with CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid) and has met the requirements for a number of programs which include Vaccines for Children, Adult Safety Net and the Texas Healthy Steps.

Because it’s privately funded, donations to the clinic are not tax-deductible. Those who’ve donated toward the purchase of costly, specialized equipment these past four years have done so from the heart, not for a tax write-off. As of early 2020, another wish list item was checked off with the purchase of an audiometer for hearing testing.

Ellis has also earned the trust and the ear of the legislators serving this area, Rep. Ben Leman, Sen. Charles Schwertner and Congressman Kevin Brady. At an April townhall in Iola, Leman called Ellis a “hero” and “a fighter who is willing to get in the ring” when she reached out to him when the 100 vaccine shots they anticipated receiving were pulled. Leman arranged a meeting which resulted in 200 shots and the services of the National Guard to administer them.

Quick Visit Urgent Care plans to build a clinic in Madisonville this year. Ironically, two Madisonville clinics, one affiliated with Huntsville Memorial Hospital, closed their doors by B.I.S.’ first anniversary. Navasota resident Lisa Binford was smart to be concerned about what happens to the doc-in-a-box structure if the urgent care fails. Ellis on the other hand, remodeled an existing nondescript metal building into a neat, clean wheelchair accessible clinic with a waiting room, two exam rooms, staff offices, storage and the ability to add a third exam room, if needed.

Ellis’ patients have come from as far north as Centerville and as far south as Magnolia, and everywhere in between. During Covid, B.I.S. continued to meet patient’s needs in-person and through telehealth, FaceTime, Skype and telephone, and she maintained constant communication with Grimes County Emergency Response, the Grimes County Sheriff’s Office, Judge Joe Fauth, county, state and federal officials and all area hospitals “on a daily basis.” The community showed its support of the 24/7 clinic by donating approved PPE equipment.

What I’m trying to say here is that my definition of bringing healthcare to rural areas is bringing healthcare to truly rural areas. I know of only one who’s been willing to make that kind of commitment – Dr. Elizabeth Ellis and the B.I.S. Clinic.

Connie Clements is a freelance reporter for the Navasota Examiner and award-winning columnist. She writes feature news articles on a weekly basis and an opinion column as the mood strikes her.