TYLER, TEXAS (KLTV) - Some East Texas health care providers are looking back on the life of the man credited with creating the current model of health care in East Texas.
Elmer Ellis, the former longtime CEO of the East Texas Medical Center Regional Healthcare, died Sunday.
Paula Anthony is the chief strategy officer for what is now UT Health East Texas. She started working with Ellis 25 years ago.
“It feels like yesterday," Anthony said. "He brought me here as the organization’s first vice president and chief information officer as part of his vision to create a regional health care delivery system. He was in the beginning stages of developing that, expanding health care services and the reach of health care delivery systems to all kinds of rural communities in this market. I was one of the fortunate people that he brought on board to help execute that vision over the next couple of decades.”
Anthony remembers Ellis as humble, grounded, positive, friendly, warm and caring. She said he went against the grain to make his vision a reality.
“And flying often in the face of the conventional wisdom as to how to be successful in health care," Anthony said. “In those days really there weren’t a lot of investments being made in rural markets. A lot of systems across the country and certainly across the state were investing in big cities and not so much in rural communities.”
“I think he was able to make tough decisions. To sacrifice for this community. In ways that are special, that we can all learn from. And I certainly had opportunities to learn how to be a better health care provider and to better serve our community in general,” said Kirk A. Calhoun, MD, President of UT Health Science Center at Tyler.
Investors often ignored rural areas because there were fewer patients and the population was sparser, Anthony said. But Ellis believed in a different model of health care. While many health care systems across the country were consolidating services in major cities, Ellis was fighting to push health care services into the communities in which people lived.
“He truly believed that people who are ill got better, stayed better and recovered more quickly when they were surrounded by their families, their communities, their religious organizations," Anthony said.
Ellis’ vision didn’t just shape health care in East Texas, it influenced the people he worked with in creating and maintaining it.
“He never tried to tell me how to do things, but he provided great, gentle advice and counseling, and really showed me that he believed in my ability to carry on the tradition that he built here and that he had confidence in me. And that really meant a lot to me,” said Moody Chisholm, president and CEO of UT Health East Texas.
Ellis retired in February of 2018 after 50 years of service to ETMC. According to an obituary from the Burks-Walker-Tippit Funeral Directors, Ellis died Sunday surrounded by his family. He was 78 years old.
“You know he grew up in Paris, Texas. And he never forgot his hometown roots and how critical it was to have healthcare access close to home," Anthony said. “It’s proven to be just a phenomenal legacy that he left this area.”