Baylor Scott & White Health has opened a new $100 million acute care hospital in Marble Falls that will serve about 90,000 residents in a primarily rural region in Texas.
The idea to build a hospital there was set into motion long before the Baylor Health Care System merged with Scott & White. The process first came up about 20 years ago, when residents began lobbying for a hospital to attract newcomers. It was a “missing piece,” says Eric Looper, the leader of the Hill Country region of Baylor Scott & White Health.
“Marble Falls serves as a regional hub for retail and other trade, and so when you drive into Marble Falls, the city limits sign says ‘town of 6,000,’ but once you get into town you realize it doesn’t look like a town of 6,000 at all,” he said. “It serves a population of about 90,000 people.”
That population exists primarily in five counties: Burnet and Llano counties, which have about 60,000 total residents. The remaining 30,000 live in San Saba County, as well as northern portion of Blanco County, and southwest Travis County, near Lakeway and Bee Caves. The hospital opens at a particularly trying time for rural care facilities. According to the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals (TORCH), 13 facilities have closed in the state since 2013. Don McBeath, a spokesman for TORCH, told the Associated Press that it’s rare for such a build in the current climate.
Rural hospitals have been punched in the gut by shrinking public and private reimbursements, a declining population, and the state’s high uninsured rate. But Burnet County has actually added residents, growing by 5 percent from 2010 to 2014. As Looper notes, the Marble Falls area is a magnet for retirees.
“The communities of Horseshoe Bay and Kngsland Marble Falls are areas situated here along the lake and in the hills,” he said. “People have been retiring here for the last 30-plus years. They’ve come here and bought houses on the lake.”
Scott & White joined the conversation in 2007 and took over the nearby Llano Memorial Healthcare System three years later with the understanding that a larger, updated acute care facility would open its doors in the next few years. In 2013, the system, then based in Temple, opened a 66,000 square foot Marble Falls Specialty Clinic to attract physicians within a 30-mile radius.
Now, the same specialists have a 188,000 square foot hospital to practice in. It launched with 46 beds: 30 for medical surgery, eight for intensive care, two operating suites, and eight women’s services beds for labor, delivery, and recovery. It has a full service emergency department, and Looper said it saw 40 patients in its first day. Fourteen of those had to be either admitted or transferred to another hospital.
“If the EMS in town picked up someone who needed a hospital, they were having to drive half an hour into Austin to get them to an appropriate one,” Looper said. “So before we were here, those folks were quite a ways from the hospital.”
In a statement, John McWhorter, chief operations officer for Baylor Scott & White Health, praised the move and said it would provide additional healthcare infrastructure to an underserved population.
“We are excited for Baylor Scott & White Health to continue the strategy that was initiated by Scott & White Healthcare more than a decade ago when they set out to build an acute care hospital in Marble Falls,” he wrote. “At that time, more than half of people were leaving the area for their healthcare and many healthcare workers were traveling to work in facilities far from home. With the opening of Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Marble Falls, healthcare workers are able to work in the local area and patients are able to receive quality care close to home.”