Texas Tech in El Paso has acquired its first private medical practice, buying the assets of Southwest Endocrine Consultants for $1.4 million and hiring all its doctors, physician assistants and staff.
The deal, nearly five years in the making, closed last week, and marks a change of strategy for the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine.
“The old Texas Tech focused on primary care in El Paso,” says Dr. Jose Manuel de la Rosa, founding dean of the med school in El Paso. “The new Texas Tech emphasizes specialty care. This purchase sort of highlights our different personality now.”
Doctors Wilbur Strader and Robert Young, who owned the practice, will continue to work there as Texas Tech employees. They have also joined the faculty of the med school where they will conduct research and teach students about endocrine diseases such as diabetes.
“It brings the number of endocrinologists at the medical school to four, which gives us the critical mass to establish a teaching program in endocrinology,” de la Rosa says.
The school is working to establish a fellowship program in endocrinology that could be ready in two or three years.
Young is one of the only pediatric endocrinologist specialists in town. Right now, the doctors are treating 69 kids with growth hormone deficiency. Few in town provide the treatment, but the doctors help the children whether or not they have health insurance or not.
On a recent Wednesday morning, the waiting room at Southwest Endocrine Consultants, 1201 E. Schuster, is nearly full and Dr. Strader darts from exam room to exam room.
Except for a new sign, patients shouldn’t notice many differences at the practice, the doctors say.
More than 6,000 patients have been seen here over the past three years, according to Strader, who founded the practice 35 years ago.
Why did he sell the successful practice to Texas Tech?
“We’ve been here so long that the doctors are getting old and sooner or later they are going to fall down and die or have to quit,” Strader says in a fun yet fatherly manner that makes it easy to believe he’s been putting patients at ease for decades.
“For continuity for our patients and staff, we have to figure out how to keep it going,” he says.
Strader founded the practice in 1976 with physician assistant Dwight Deter. It was chance that brought the pair together.
In 1973, Strader had a problem with his swimming pool.
He called a pool repair company and Deter, who was finishing college at the University of Texas at El Paso, arrived to take care of it.
Deter graduated from UTEP, then PA school at the Baylor College of Medicine and joined the practice where Strader was then working. Deter was one of the first certified physician assistants in Texas.
A few months later, Strader asked Deter if he wanted to help him found Southwest Endocrine Consultants.
“And I said yeah – heck, yeah,” Deter says.
The practice has since grown to 16 employees.
Another chance encounter set the sale of Southwest Endocrine Consultants in motion. Five years ago, Deter casually mentioned to de la Rosa that he would love to teach.
“Dr. Strader in particular was excited about developing an endocrinology fellowship program, which is where we are heading with this,” de la Rosa says. “I see the potential for developing new specialties in the city.”
While Texas Tech has hired local doctors before, it’s the first time the school has acquired an entire practice – lock, stock and barrel – the building, staff, docs, desks, everything.
And as a first for El Paso’s med school, the transition from private to state ownership hasn’t all been smooth.
There were challenges putting a value on the practice, hiring all the staff at once, complying with regulations that can be very technical and resolving some title problems.
“I know there were times that the doctors and physician assistants at Southwest Endocrine were very frustrated with us, and there were times that we were frustrated with us,” de la Rosa says.
Now the doctors are trying to implement a new electronic medical record system.
“Most of us older folks don’t really fall in love very quickly with digital records,” Strader says.
The greatest challenge now, he says, is “the dark unknown.”
“We think it is going to be fine and Texas Tech has advised us that we can keep doing what we’re doing as we’re doing it,” Strader says.
The Southwest Endocrine Consultants deal was an experiment, de la Rosa says, but it’s one they haven’t ruled out trying again.
“It took almost five years,” he says. “That is not a very efficient business model, but we will leave the door open to other possibilities.”
Deter and Strader will be honored by the American Academy of Physician Assistants on Monday, May 28, with this year’s Physician-PA Partnership Award.
They are being awarded for “a career of providing the best possible care to patients through the unique relationship between physicians and physician assistants,” according to an announcement.
“Diabetes, thyroid and other endocrine diseases are lifelong and can be complicated. However, the team approach that we have been able to implement has enabled us to improve so many lives,” Deter says in a statement.
The award will be presented to Deter and Strader at the academy’s annual physician assistant conference in Toronto, Canada.
“Caring for our patients is our love and what has kept us going all of these years, and we’re deeply honored to receive this recognition from our peers,” Strader says in a statement. “The collaboration, rapport and kinship we have developed through this partnership is widely appreciated by our patients and, over time, has helped our community become healthier.”
E-mail El Paso Inc. reporter Robert Gray at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422 ext. 105.