Editor's note: This article has been updated to include the full name and title of Director of Business Operations Steven Williams.
The Emergency Center of North Texas, one of the free-standing emergency rooms in Sherman, closed down suddenly Saturday after just nine months in operation. A company spokesperson said a harsh business environment led to the closure that happened with little notice to the staff.
Director of Business Operations for Emergency Center of North Texas Steven Williams said in a phone call Wednesday that there were a lot of factors at play, chief among them were some rather large, unforeseen expenses his company did not have sufficient cash flow to overcome. Although the center has officially closed its doors, Williams will remain on staff, along with a few others, to handle the administrative operations during the transition period.
The ECNT closed on Saturday. There was a sign on the door telling potential patients to dial 911 or check with the nearest emergency room. All signs on the building were covered with black tarps.
“Currently emergency centers are governed by Texas administrative code. There is a clause that mentions what to do in the event of an unforeseen closure such as ours. We are legally obligated to have exterior signage turned off, covered in black tarp, emergency center sign covered, along with signage on the door stating we are closed, if a patient is experiencing a medical emergency to dial 911 or go to the closest emergency room available. We followed all of those procedures,” Williams said.
Williams said the center will remain closed and will not be taking any new patients. He said there is a third-party billing agency that will continue to handle all patient billing issues. Right now he said he is helping his recently laid off staff find new employment.
“We had one week's notice. I have been sending out letters and talking to other medical care providers I know personally to help our staff find other employment elsewhere. I think it is the ethical thing to do regardless if we gave them a month's notice or a week,” Williams said.
Although he said the facility will not reopen under current leadership, there are plans for the developer to use the facility to bring in a similar health care provider in order to fill the void the closure creates in people's lives.
“When we were first looking at Sherman we were hearing patients at the traditional hospital emergency rooms complaining about the quality of care they received. Many felt they were being pushed through with minimal care to get them out the door. Our physicians made it their goal to provide the best patient care they could in order to mitigate those feelings,” Williams said.
He said the industry of free-standing emergency rooms as a whole is relatively new having gotten its start in Texas just a few years ago. He said as the industry expanded rapidly some markets have become saturated.
Williams said he didn't think the other two facilities, Select ER or Red River ER, had any direct bearing on their closing as they are both far enough away from his facility that they likely didn't share clients.
He said it was mostly higher costs in areas they couldn't control combined with dwindling insurance benefits paid to the doctors.
“The plan is ultimately to allow this facility to be integrated into other facilities coming around us. We'd like for it to happen sooner rather than later. The Emergency Center of North Texas, has closed but a new entity will be forming in its place at the facility. The new entity will be able to offer the same standard of care we offered previously,” Williams said.
He said he couldn't go into specific details, however, he said there is a new hospital currently in the planning stages to go into the same area. Speaking purely on speculation, Williams said that facility could use the building his company occupied to add a full emergency room to their operation if they chose. He said it would be able to accommodate 20 to 30 beds in that situation.
He said more than anything company officials were disappointed for the community to be losing access to doctors who wanted to provide valuable care to their community.
“The vast majority of our partners are local physicians. The original intention was for them to build a facility to provide a point of access to emergency services to patients in this area. A lot of patients on this side of town don't want to drive to the other side of town. Those physicians are disappointed it didn't work. They understand the volatile nature of the free-standing ER industry,” Williams said.
Williams said he believed his physicians would spread to other ventures in order to better serve their patients. He said he believed what they learned from this experience was how fragile the relatively new industry was.
“Texas was the first to recognize the new industry. As a result, the state has experienced rapid growth in this field. Since growth was so rapid, there was a lot of competition that sprang up. Five years down the road you might see the market leveling on it, some facilities will exit. The market has grown too fast,” Williams said.