Leaders in Crockett tried to capture the interest of other hospital systems to reopen and manage the facility, without success, Grier said. Along with staffers losing their jobs, the community knew it would be more difficult to persuade people to relocate or retire to the area without a hospital nearby, he said.
Every weekday at noon for weeks on end, a small group of two to 20 people gathered beneath the hospital's front portico to pray for some avenue to reopen, Grier said. Then, as the odds looked increasingly long, they got a call out of the blue from two Austin-based doctors. "I feel God was involved," Grier said. "They have told us that they were looking for some kind of a larger investment."
Those initial conversations resulted in a five-year lease arrangement between the hospital district and the management company, operating as Crockett Medical Center.
The two physicians, Dr. Kelly Tjelmeland and Dr. Subir Chhikara, are listed on Crockett Medical Center's website as chairman and president, respectively. They failed to respond to requests for comment about their plans for the hospital. But in a presentation to the board before the lease is signed, they said that one of their goals was to get the facility classified as a critical-access hospital, which enables a higher reimbursement for Medicare patients.
Along with operating a primary-care clinic and 24/7 emergency room, Crockett Medical Center staffs a handful of hospital beds for patients who need more-limited medical treatment, such as heart monitoring or intravenous antibiotics, Grier said. But when the Crockett hospital reopened, it didn't resume delivering babies. Only 66 of Texas' rural hospitals still provide obstetric services, according to McBeath.
Eliminating baby deliveries was one possibility on the table at another rural hospital if that hospital CEO hadn't pulled off the sort of Texas miracle that Crockett has yet to achieve—persuading local voters to support a tax increase. Adam Willmann, CEO of 25-bed Goodall-Witcher Hospital Authority, northwest of Waco, said that he and others made the case in dozens of meetings that a hospital property tax was needed to support the financially struggling hospital.
In November, 58% of the county's voters backed the new tax, despite the community's political leanings. During that same election, 80% voted to re-elect Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
"They want to be 5 minutes, 15 minutes from an ER and not 35 miles down the road," Willmann said, referring to the nearest hospitals in Waco. "And they're willing to pay a little more for it."
Kaiser Health News is a not-for-profit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.