Iraan General Hospital: Teresa Callahan, CEO & Administrator

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Imagine a 14-bed hospital so small that the CAT scan machine was located outside. Wind, rain or shine, patients had to be rolled out to the street to get imaging services. When a helicopter needed to land to take a patient to a larger hospital, staff members had to coordinate with the Baptist church congregation next door to clear the street and make room for the air ambulance to land. This was the old reality for Iraan General Hospital in Pecos County, Texas. A new facility, triple the size of the old one, has now been built on ten acres of land donated by Marathon Oil Company.

Iraan General is a small, critical access hospital located in rural west Texas. It is 80 miles from Midland, Texas and 118 miles from San Angelo. It provides primary care services and is a Level IV Certified Trauma Center, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The hospital began as a county hospital more than 50 years ago. In 2004, when funds were being primarily invested in a hospital on the other side of the county, the community decided to support its own hospital. “We won our independence,” says Teresa Callahan, CEO and Administrator of Iraan General. She has been with the hospital for eleven years. “Our community decided we could make decisions in healthcare for our own surrounding people.”

Within two years of becoming district, the community decided to build a new facility to house its hospital.

Healthcare in Rural America

One of the biggest obstacles to healthcare in such rural areas of the country is attracting and maintaining upper level healthcare professionals. “Physical therapists, RNs, X-Ray technicians, getting those people to come out to the small rural areas is a challenge,” says Callahan. “Most people want to live in a town that has a Wal-Mart, a Sonic– but out here in small towns you don’t have that luxury. You have to like living in a small town.”

Most of Iraan’s population either works in the oil fields, school or they are ranchers. “It’s not like the old days where we just came because we wanted a job,” says Callahan. “It’s almost like we have to offer them a gold mine. If you want them to come you have to offer moving expenses, bonuses, student loan payments, and higher salaries.  Once we get an employee here, they do tend to stay.  Many of our employees have been here greater than ten years.”

Her doctors, however, do their own recruiting. “One of my doctors actually wore a t-shirt with the salary printed on one side and the statement of needing a doctor on the other to a big medical conference. He came back with a doctor for us, all for the cost of a t-shirt.”

The three doctors at Iraan General work two weeks on and two weeks off in order to keep the hospital covered at all times. In this manner, they avoid having to use traveling ER doctors to maintain coverage. “I do not have to worry about that because my three doctors are able to rotate their schedules. It helps, budget wise, as well,” says Callahan.

Luxury in a New Facility

The new hospital houses everything under one roof. A patient never has to leave the facility, not even as far as the street to get a CAT scan. A larger lab allows them to do more work in-house. Physical therapy now has a space shared with cardio-pulmonary rehab, a new service the hospital is able to offer.

“Our rooms are bigger where you can actually maneuver around the patient,” says Callahan, who also works as a nurse practitioner for the hospital. “At the old hospital we had one big ER and one tiny ER and most of the time we had multiple patients in it and we were caring for patients out in the hallway. Now we have two trauma rooms that are nice and big and we can actually take very good care of our patients.”

The new hospital was also built to be entirely wireless, so the move involved a switch to electronic records, as well. It was decided to invest in new equipment rather than continue to make do with hand-me-down machines that did not always accommodate patient needs and assure safety.

“Now we’re looking to see what other things we can bring in that will keep our patients from having to travel down the road so much,” says Callahan. “Because of the economy and the cost of gas and people without insurance—that is a big problem—we’re just trying to think of what we can bring in that will help our community.”

Down the road, Iraan General will be looking into future plans for a wellness center, nursing home or assisted living services.

Working Together

“If you set your mind to it, you can almost achieve any dream when everybody works together on it,” says Callahan. “We may be little, but our hearts are very big and healthcare is important to us all. Of course, it’s the last thing that you hope you have to use, but if you have a severe heart attack or a burn or something critical, time is of essence, and you hope and pray that there will be something right there for you.”

“We’ve never had to close our doors in this town in all these years. I feel that we’ve done well getting the new hospital built and I hope that it will provide healthcare services for another 50 years just like the old hospital.”

-by T.M. Simmons

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