SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - The Smith County Commissioners Court approved plans to lease extra space in the historic Cotton Belt building to house medical services to low-income patients.
Moody Chisholm, president and CEO of UT Health East Texas, spoke with county commissioners Tuesday morning about relocating its existing program, which was located on Houston Street, to the Cotton Belt building. Moody said the move makes sense, considering the Cotton Belt building has excess space county commissioners allowed to be rented, and the new location better serves patients.
“What we’re doing with the county is transitioning the program which we’ve had since 1986 to a more efficiently-monitored program where we will provide more easily accessible facilities at our Cotton Belt location for the qualified low-income individuals in our community” said Moody. “We want to make it easy for them to access, also in a building where other county administrative services are available, and security so everybody is kept safe."
Smith County is mandated by the state of Texas to provide such a service to the county’s low-income population. There are income thresholds and other criteria set by the state which determines who can participate in the program.
“We want to make it available to those that actually are qualified," said Smith County Judge Terry Moran. “We’re excited about this new opportunity to reset the scope of the services and the geographic location of those services.”
Moody added that the new location would make sure patients received the services they need without the county spending any more money than is necessary.
“As an example, a person might need a CT scan or an MRI,” Moody explained. “And one of the reasons we do pre-certification is if a physician orders both tests, one of our pre-certification programs would likely say ‘let’s get the results of one of these tests and then determine whether we need the other test’ because they’re both imaging services.”
Moran added that the Cotton Belt location made services more accessible to patients considering the building is along a city bus route, whereas the previous location on Houston Street was not.
“It makes better sense to just have [patients] in an area more accessible to the public, and one that’s more secure,” Moran said.
There couldn’t be a better time for the partnership: Smith County officials in March 2018 approved improvements that will help preserve the Cotton Belt building and its history. The repairs will include resealing all windows to ensure they are waterproof and replacing any broken window panes.
“The commissioners court is bound and determined to be a great steward of the Cotton Belt building,” Moran explained. “[It] has historic significance here in the community, we’ve used it for a long period of time. We want to put new energy and life into that building without spending a whole lot of money if possible.”
Smith County officials say the window repairs are the first of many needed at the Cotton Belt Building, which has been standing since the 1950′s. The county’s five-year capital improvement plan announced last October includes $2.3 million in renovations at the Cotton Belt Building.
“There’s still a significant amount of open space over there,” Moran said. “We’re looking forward to partnering with other community entities, nonprofits, whoever it is who is looking for a home that’s along a bus route, that has some other activity going on in the building... we’re looking for other folks who want to come over and partner with us.”