The University of Tennessee Health Science Center played a role in the health care history of a small town in Texas as far back as the late 1800s. A three-time graduate of UTHSC’s College of Nursing has rekindled that connection.
On September 28, UTHSC College of Nursing alumna Elizabeth Ellis, DNP, RN, FNP-BC, FAANP, opened the doors of a primary care clinic in Bedias, Texas, a rural community north of Houston that has not had its own health care clinic in more than 90 years.
Beverly “Bev” Harrison, Carl V. Barnes, and Luther Barnes, the last three physicians to provide care in that community, were graduates of UT (now UTHSC) or institutions that eventually merged with UT.
“It is such an amazing story that we at UTHSC would have such an impact on a community that is so far away,” Dr. Ellis says. She is happy to carry on the tradition as an owner, manager, and director of the B.I.S. Community Clinic, named for Bedias, Iola, and Singleton, the communities the clinic serves.
Dr. Ellis says UTHSC’s College of Nursing provided her with the education and tools to succeed. “I changed careers to become a nurse, and UTHSC made that very possible by its accelerated program,” she says. “I was in the second graduating section of the accelerated BSN program.”
She was almost 30 and working in the insurance business, managing workers’ compensation injury claims in Mississippi. “I met a nurse practitioner in Mississippi. She impacted my life,” Dr. Ellis says. “I could not believe what a difference she was making in the community. I said, ‘that’s what I want to do.’ That was the best change I ever made.”
She started in the College of Nursing in 1992, received her BSN 18 months later, and then completed her master’s as a family nurse practitioner in 1995. Dr. Ellis worked in rural Mississippi and in Chattanooga for a time, before taking a job at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, where she had family. Promoted to lead nurse practitioner, she worked there for almost six years.
Upon completing her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, she accepted an offer to direct the UT Health Services Clinic for The School of Nursing at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
When her husband retired from his job as chief financial officer at the university, the couple sought the rural life. In 2009, they settled in Bedias, an area he knew well from hunting and fishing there since childhood.
The clinic is located in the center of Bedias, an incorporated city with a bank, a grocery store, two gas stations, and a little over 400 people. The extended zip code encompassing several small surrounding communities has about 10,000 people. The county has an ambulance service based in Bedias, and the city has recently added high-speed internet and city water, making the clinic possible, Dr. Ellis says.
She and her husband own and operate the clinic, along with an investor. A medical director, a collaborating physician, a pharmacist, and a medical assistant are on staff.
“We’ll be treating newborns all the way up,” Dr. Ellis says. “We’ll do chronic care management, preventive health, well-child/adult visits, home visits for the Medicare home bound, house calls, immunizations, vaccines for children, minor injury procedures, employee health, and other services as a primary care provider.” Full laboratory services are provided, and an in-house pharmacy will soon be in place. Dr. Ellis has full credentials at two of the four hospitals that are within 60 minutes driving time.
“We are just thrilled we can serve this community by providing health care,” Dr. Ellis says. “This community wants something to call their own, a health care provider they can feel at ease with and at home with and not have to jump in a car and drive 35 to 50 minutes to get there.”
That was evident at the ribbon cutting. Even though delayed 10 days by Hurricane Harvey, the event brought out state and local politicians, law enforcement officials, school principals, and citizens of most of the cities and towns in the county.
Dr. Ellis says her alma mater set her on the path that brought her to that day. “UTHSC made it possible for me to achieve this new clinic and gave me the skills to do so and to meet our mission, which is to partner with the individuals, families, and employers to provide personalized, affordable, and accessible quality health care for all.”