Spindletop MHMR Services: Dr. N Charles Harris, CEO

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More than 100 years ago, the American oil industry literally burst onto the scene when a drilling derrick named Spindletop struck the black gold in Texas, proving to be the nation’s first major oil discovery.

In the year 2000, another Spindletop began shaping a new industry, as Spindletop MHMR Services began the transformation of mental health and mental retardation centers in Texas.

A community approach

Spindletop MHMR Services was created in September of 2000 after the Beaumont State Center and Life Resources were combined, offering services in four counties in Southeast Texas.

“We’re about a $32 million organization, with approximately 500 staff positions at any one time. We serve four counties in Southeast Texas, with a population in the 470,000 range. We generally serve 8,500 to 9,000 people a year,” said Dr. N Charles Harris, CEO of Spindletop MHMR Services. “We’re a comprehensive, community mental health, mental retardation center. We serve folks with mental illness and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We provide services in inpatient, outpatient, crisis prevention, day programs, and work programs.”

Becoming one of 39 community mental health and mental retardation centers in Texas meant taking a community approach to client care. The goal was no longer to just treat patients for whatever ailed them; there was now an added purpose of helping them to live and work successfully within the community in which they live.

Spindletop MHMR Services also uses the community approach to consolidate many things in its operation, leading to better overall efficiency and some reduced costs by working with all of the other centers as a whole rather than individually. They, along with several other centers, share their own mail-order pharmacy, which saves money by allowing them the lowest prices on medications because they operate the pharmacy themselves. It also allows profits to be put back into projects and programs at the various centers.

There is also a wide area network used by all of the centers, with teleconference and tele-medicine capability throughout. Having one network for all of the centers is cheaper than running individual ones and increases efficiency.

“The network has allowed us to consolidate some of our efforts. All of the centers in Texas have the same requirements when it comes to things that need to be reported and with different audits and so forth. So we can do these things at the network level, which replaces some of the personnel we may have needed there,” said Harris. “Other centers have chosen to expand together and use a single medical director, or to share key staff. We are constantly looking at ways to expand or to get beyond our business. Hopefully we have positioned ourselves with this network to deal with budget cuts by working all as one.

Making an investment

Upgrading the quality you provide generally means an improvement in the facilities that you have available, and Spindletop MHMR is no different. With capital funding running low because of a multi-billion dollar state deficit, community centers like Spindletop are forced to make tough decisions on how they spend their money.

“One of the things we have done here over the last 3-4 years, is we’ve made a huge investment in ourselves, renovating almost every property we have. We have made a conscious effort to upgrade facilities and they are on par and exceed most of the things you’d see in the private sector,” said Harris. “These community centers are near the bottom when it comes to capital funding. That means we have to be more creative and look for other revenue services, or if we can’t find them, we are limited to provide services to the most severely impaired people, so that’s a challenge.”

Throw in the fact that Spindletop serves a community with a median yearly income on the lower side of the scale, and it would be easy to see a dip in the quality of services provided. But according to Harris, that is exactly the opposite at Spindletop. “We have a philosophy that regardless of your ability to pay, you should be treated in an environment that is functionally appropriate and as aesthetically pleasing as possible.

We believe that is essential for our staff. They feel better about themselves and the organization,” he said.  “So we spent about $4 million on improvements in our facilities, major investments in IT and other types of equipment. We believe our system is among the best in the state of Texas.”

-by Matt Bretzius

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