By Sarah Naron

Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – The afternoon thunderstorm and continued dreary weather did not deter a dedicated group of local business owners and representatives from attending the Crockett Area Chamber of Commerce’s second Business After Hours event held Thursday, July 12 evening at Grapeland Urgent Care.

As Crockett Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jeannie Julian pointed out, many businesses throughout the county are unable to attend the chamber’s mid-morning coffee gatherings, held monthly from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., prompting the decision by the chamber to give Business After Hours a try.

“We didn’t have to do anything to find people to host Business After Hours,” Julian said. “Our members are supreme. They come to us, and that’s what makes Crockett Area Chamber of Commerce an awesome place to work and an awesome group of people and an awesome business within itself, and we thank you so much for your support.”

The first Business After Hours event – held at the Chamber and sponsored by Julian Insurance and Groveton Nursing Center – provided an opportunity for a Palestine-based author to introduce her new book, Julian explained. Frontier Camp of Grapeland will be hosting the third gathering, set to take place in October.

“We hope to travel and go to the businesses – you know, get us out as far as we can and not just always be at the Chamber or at the civic center,” Julian said. “The main thing is folks getting together and having a good time.”

For those who faithfully attend mid-morning coffee events, Julian assured that Business After Hours is not meant to be a replacement.

“We have a really cohesive group at mid-morning, and we run anywhere from 30-50 attendees,” she said. “That’s just an accepted thing of the chamber; it’s been going on a long time.”

Surveying the crowd in attendance at Thursday’s gathering, Julian expressed a positive outlook about Business After Hours.

“We started out with 30 last time, and you can see it’s going to be a pretty good crowd tonight,” she said. “So, I think this will pick up and be a big thing as well.”

During the event, Vulcraft General Manager Chad Beard discussed the possibility of an infrastructure bill being passed in Washington, D.C.

“Nucor supports it completely, and it’s one of those rare issues that even has bipartisan support – you can see that Republicans and Democrats all agree that we need to do something,” Beard said.

A major barrier to the passage of the bill, however, is securing the necessary amount of funding to make it happen.

“With the president’s agenda – with the tax cuts that have gone through and some of the other things – really, there’s not a clear path to how it would be funded,” Beard explained. “The president’s pretty adamant that if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it the right way.”

Based on information provided to Nucor from its informants in D.C, Beard expressed the belief that the bill is “a second-term agenda item” for President Trump.

“They want to see the economy continue to get better; the tax cuts continue to generate business and growth,” he said. “As we that deficit start to come down, then we can handle a trillion-dollar infrastructure.”

Beard also addressed the topic of trade – specifically, the 232 Trade Tariffs.

“Obviously, Nucor and Vulcraft are very big supporters of the tariffs,” he pointed out. “When it was announced, Nucor’s CEO was the guy sitting right next to President Trump.”

Beard went on to explain why the company feels the tariffs are a step in the right direction, describing the opinion as “very contrary to what you would hear in the media today.

“It’s important to understand that it’s a leveling of the playing field,” he said. “We’re not trying to get an advantage. For years, our company and other steel companies have won trade cases on individual products, and it takes two or three years to get one of those approved and through the system. But it’s like Whack-a-Mole – you get one, and another one pops up.

“While we’re winning individual trade cases, the overall imports still rise,” Beard continued. “So, that’s why we felt it was absolutely necessary to have an across-the-board approach to kind of save the U.S. steel industry.”

Dick McNairy, Chief Financial Officer of Grapeland Urgent Care, spoke to the attendees in regard to the medical industry and changes which have occurred within the last two decades.

“In 2006, the demographics for this area was made up of PCPs (primary care physicians) and hospitals. Those were the choices that you had,” McNairy explained. “And then, in about that same time frame, some of the small clinical facilities became available, but they were very limited in investment scope, and they were very limited in capabilities.”

In 2007, McNairy played a part in opening a freestanding emergency room located off of State Highway 249 in Houston – the third facility of its kind in the nation with the first and second being located in Jacksonville, FL and Seattle, WA.

“At the time, the medical boards in the state did not pay for the facility cost of these freestanding emergency rooms,” McNairy informed. “They really got populated, because they served a pretty big need, but at the time, the State of Texas and the insurance boards did not recognize them as a facility – you had to be either a hospital or a resident doctor. So, they didn’t pay for the facility cost.”

The facility cost in a freestanding ER, McNairy said, is two-thirds of the cost associated with hospitals.

“We went to the state legislature and the insurance boards, and after two years, we finally got the State of Texas and the insurance board to recognize that they would pay for these facility costs,” he said. “When that happened, they began to just populate everywhere; on every corner. You may not see that as much here, but if you go to any of the bigger cities, you’ll see numbers of them on every corner.”

From 2007-2016, McNairy said, freestanding ER facilities “increased significantly without any real controls.

“The insurance companies, all of a sudden, were faced with a problem that came up because of some fraud in this business,” he explained. “A lot of these companies in here started charging people quite a bit for services, and they were not regulated.”

In the present environment, McNairy said, many freestanding emergency rooms are not receiving reimbursement from the insurance companies of the patients they serve.

“This is really changing the whole landscape, and consequently, they’re shrinking,” he said. “Some of the bigger ones have gone through bankruptcy, because they were charging quite a bit. Now, we’re faced with, ‘Alright, if they’re not doing their reimbursement, we’re going back to what was happening in 2006.’”

As a result, McNairy said, the urgent care business emerged. These facilities are capable of handling 80 percent of medical issues – such as allergies, respiratory difficulties, lacerations and broken bones – in a more cost-effective way than hospitals, freestanding emergency rooms and primary care physicians.

“I represent a group in Houston that has three hospitals, and they’re basically ER doctors. They are the ownership of this enterprise,” McNairy said. “They saw this whole thing coming about freestanding emergency rooms not satisfying all the demand and having problems, so they wanted to invest in urgent care.”

The group’s initial investment was in a Houston urgent care facility owned by Joe Tumalad, NP, who now serves as the nurse practitioner of Grapeland Urgent Care.

“When Joe was leaving and wanted to come here, it was an ideal situation for a community that needed a little bit more medical infusion,” McNairy said. “And that brings in the City of Grapeland and Mayor Balis Dailey and Chad at Vulcraft. These were partners that said, ‘Hey, the community could stand to have this here.’”

McNairy also cited the Grapeland Noon Lions Club as a helping hand in getting the facility up and running.