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story.lead_photo.caption Micro-hospitals, such as Texarkana Emergency Center-Hospital, help fill medical care voids in many communities and are trending nationally. Photo by Brooke Marshall

TEXARKANA, Texas — More and more micro-hospitals are sprouting up in the South, collaborating with larger hospitals to provide improved health care for local patients. Texarkana Emergency Center & Hospital is a prime example of that trend.

Dr. Tom Vo, founder and CEO of Nutex Health, has helped open and manage around 30 micro-hospitals in states like Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and more. And he has plans to open 15 more in other states like Florida and Ohio.

Originally transitioning from Free Standing Emergency Room Centers to micro-hospitals in order to expand outside of Texas, Vo was always looking for a way to bring medical care to the patients, as opposed to the other way around.

"I really believe this is going to be the future," Vo said. "There's a lot of communities out there where you don't have a big hospital system. So, this is where micro-hospitals kind of fill the void. Either that, or if a bigger hospital can't see patients in a timely or concierge-level manner. We position ourselves between urgent care and a big hospital. There's tons of Texarkana's around the country who could use that kind of service to fill a void "

TEC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Matt Young said micro-hospitals like his have services to continue emergency care and transfer patients into beds, but they don't have surgery or intensive care unit capabilities.

"We still partner with our larger hospital partners for patients who might require surgery or intensive care," Young said.

"The patients who get admitted to our facility are usually lower-acuity patients that we can monitor and give concierge type medicine to."

Vo said this symbiotic relationship between the larger hospitals, like Wadley Regional Medical Center and CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System, and a micro-hospital is the best way to fill patients' needs locally.

"Since we're much smaller and we don't have all the staff, we can't be everything for everybody obviously. However, we can definitely help decompress the hospitals when they get very busy," Vo said. "We just provide a third option for patients, and we decompress the hospital."

Officials from Wadley would agree.

"Wadley Regional Medical Center has a good working relationship with TEC to provide specialty and inpatient care to patients needing a higher level of care," said Director of Marketing Shelby Brown. "Texarkana is fortunate to have a healthcare system that works together to ensure all patients receive the most appropriate care to ensure the best possible outcome."

This relationship was put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic, where hospitals were overflowing with patients and TEC's volume went through the roof. When many urgent care units were closed, TEC became one of the only medical centers besides Wadley and CHRISTUS St. Michael that remained open.

Vo said their presence alleviated some of the overcrowding at those hospitals, while COVID cases piled up.

"We were just in the right place at the right time," he said. "And Texarkana was just one of the communities that this happened to. It happened to all the communities we operate in."

Ultimately, Vo feels the healthy competition between micro-hospitals and larger hospitals improves the overall quality for everyone involved.

"It's a win-win," he said. "It's a win for the patient, it's a win for the doctor and it's a win for the community. When we open up in a market like Texarkana, the current hospitals don't really need to improve the patient care. They're the only game in town. The patient either went to their hospital, or they would have to drive five hours away to a bigger hospital in a bigger city. When we came into town, it automatically made everybody want to compete better and offer better service. And that's exactly what happened in Texarkana."

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