Some 200,000 local clients still have coverage thanks to the agreement. RSM Design

Nearly 200,000 Memorial Hermann Hospital patients can take a deep breath after the hospital system announced on Friday, March 11, that it has reached a deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas.

Memorial Hermann's contract with the state's largest insurer expired at the start of the month after a disagreement over contracting out the hospital's physician's network.

Both organizations announced they no longer had a contract, meaning patients would have to pay out-of-network costs.

After ongoing negotiations, a four-year deal was made, and Blue Cross Blue Shield patients at Memorial Hermann should not experience any further disruption in their care, effective immediately.

"Through determined efforts on both sides, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas has reached an agreement with the Memorial Hermann Health System and its physicians," the insurance provider said in a statement. "The new four-year agreement allows BCBSTX members continued access to Memorial Hermann hospitals throughout the Houston region while expanding future access to Memorial Hermann providers for our Blue Advantage HMO members."

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Continue reading this on our news partner, ABC13.

Front-line and health care workers will get the vaccine first. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

7 Houston-area hospitals receive first doses of COVID-19 vaccine

CORONAVIRUS NEWS

Four sites in Texas received the COVID-19 vaccine on December 14, part of a rollout of doses being shipped out across the U.S.

Texas received 19,500 doses, with another 250,000 doses being distributed to 109 facilities in Texas this week.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the first four sites to get it were:

  • MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston
  • Methodist Dallas Medical Center
  • Wellness 360 at UT Health San Antonio
  • UT Health Austin's Dell Medical School

Another 75,000 doses will be delivered on December 15 to 19 sites in Texas:

  • Houston, Texas Children's Hospital Main
  • Houston, LBJ Hospital
  • Houston, CHI St. Luke's Health
  • Houston, Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center
  • Houston, Houston Methodist Hospital
  • Houston, Ben Taub General Hospital
  • Galveston, University of Texas Medical Branch Hospital
  • Amarillo, Texas Tech Univ. Health Science Center Amarillo
  • Corpus Christi, Christus Spohn Health System Shoreline
  • Dallas, Parkland Hospital
  • Dallas, UT Southwestern
  • Edinburg, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance
  • Edinburg, UT Health RGV Edinburg
  • El Paso, University Medical Center El Paso
  • Fort Worth, Texas Health Resources Medical Support
  • Lubbock, Covenant Medical Center
  • San Angelo, Shannon Pharmacy
  • Temple, Baylor Scott and White Medical Center

Health care and front-line workers will receive the vaccine first. Officials are still working out the timeline but the general public is not expected to get the vaccine until spring 2021 at the earliest.

Dr. Paul Klotman, president of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said in a press conference that getting vaccinated is helpful to both individuals and their communities.

"The thing about everyone pitching in, do it for yourself because it will help protect you, but when you get the herd immunity it will help protect people who are unable medically to get the vaccine," Klotman said.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston Methodist stood out yet again on an annual best hospitals report, but several other Houston institutions were recognized as well. Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

New report recognizes best hospitals in Houston

better than all the rest

Hospitals across Houston were ranked by their patient care, patient safety, outcomes, nursing, advanced technology and reputation in an annual report that identifies the top medical facilities in the country.

U.S. News & World Report released its 31st annual best hospital rankings this week, which included both adult and children's hospital tracks across several categories. The report released both overall and local rankings after evaluating over 4,500 medical centers nationwide in 16 specialties, and 134 hospitals were ranked in at least one specialty.

For the ninth year in a row, the top hospital in Houston and Texas, according to the report, is Houston Methodist, which ranked at No. 20 nationally and made the report's Honor Roll.

"Our U.S. News rankings are especially meaningful right now as this has been an exceptionally difficult time for our health care workers," says Marc Boom, M.D., president and CEO of Houston Methodist, in a news release. "We have always served our community by providing exceptional care — during the COVID-19 pandemic and before. It's a true testament to our commitment to being unparalleled."

Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital tied for No. 4 in Houston and No. 6 (three-way tie) in Texas. Additionally, the hospital was recognized on the top lists for 11 specialties:

  • No. 12 for cardiology/heart surgery
  • No. 13 for orthopedics
  • No. 14 for gastroenterology/GI surgery
  • No. 17 for cancer
  • No. 19 (tie) for nephrology
  • No. 20 for pulmonology and lung surgery
  • No. 23 for neurology/neurosurgery
  • No. 26 for geriatrics
  • No. 26 (tie) for gynecology
  • No. 28 for diabetes and endocrinology
  • No. 49 for ear, nose and throat

The second-best hospital in Houston on this year's ranking was Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center, which was also named the No. 3 hospital in the state.

"At Baylor St. Luke's, we are transforming the way we deliver care for our patients through groundbreaking technologies and a multidisciplinary approach that allows us to give the best possible care to patients and their families," says Doug Lawson, CEO of St. Luke's Health, in a news release. "I praise our dedicated staff and physicians for helping us achieve this recognition."

Baylor St. Luke's also made an appearance across five specialties:

  • No. 17 for cardiology/heart surgery
  • No. 21 for gastroenterology/GI surgery
  • No. 21 for neurology/neurosurgery
  • No. 27 for cancer
  • No. 47 for geriatrics

"This is a great report that confirms the efforts of our partnership at Baylor St. Luke's and our affiliated hospitals to provide unsurpassed care to patients, conduct research that will change lives and train the next generation of physicians", says Dr. Paul Klotman, president, CEO, and executive dean at Baylor College of Medicine. "Baylor St. Luke's high ranking in Texas is in parallel with Baylor College of Medicine being the highest ranked medical school in Texas. Together, we are an outstanding academic medical center and learning health system."

Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center came in No. 3 in Houston and No. 5 in Texas. The hospital ranked in one adult specialty and two children's specialties.

  • No. 43 for ear, nose and throat (adult)
  • No. 22 for cardiology/heart surgery (pediatric)
  • No. 31 for neurology/neurosurgery (pediatric)

On the children's hospital track, Houston's Texas Children's Hospital ranked as No. 4 nationally and was recognized in all 10 pediatric specialties, which included:

  • No. 1 for pediatric cardiology/heart surgery
  • No. 2 for pediatric nephrology
  • No. 2 for pediatric neurology/neurosurgery
  • No. 3 for pediatric pulmonology and lung surgery
  • No. 4 for pediatric cancer
  • No. 5 for pediatric diabetes and endocrinology
  • No. 5 for pediatric gastroenterology/GI surgery
  • No. 6 for pediatric urology
  • No. 10 for neonatology
  • No. 15 for pediatric orthopedics

Zooming in on the specific specialties, several other Houston hospitals in addition to these top tier hospitals, secured spots in the top 10 rankings.

University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center was ranked No. 1 nationally for adult cancer treatment. Additionally, the hospital made an appearance in six other adult specialties and one pediatric specialty.

  • No. 4 for ear, nose and throat
  • No. 6 for urology
  • No. 14 for gynecology
  • No. 27 for diabetes and endocrinology
  • No. 41 for geriatrics
  • No. 46 for gastroenterology/GI surgery
  • No. 38 for cancer (pediatric)
TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston ranked No. 3 nationally for rehabilitation.
For all 31 years, The Menninger Clinic has been recognized as a top hospital in the psychiatric speciality. This year, the clinic ranked at No. 9 nationally.

"Our clinical teams provide personalized care with the right blend of art and science. We have pioneered measuring the effectiveness of this treatment, and the results consistently demonstrate that patients sustain their well-being for at least a year after they leave Menninger," says Armando Colombo, president and CEO, in a news release. "Going forward, we will improve access to make it easier for more Texans to access these life-changing results."

Memorial Hermann has been recognized for its overall performance in serving both individuals and the community. Photo via memorialhermann.org

Houston hospital ranks among the top health care institutions in the nation

top marks

Houston hospitals have been evaluated by a new ranking to determine the institutions that are doing their best to serve their patients and the community as a whole.

Brookline, Massachusetts-based think tank, The Lown Institute, has revealed its national rankings on its Lown Institute Hospitals Index — which evaluated hospitals based on civic leadership (based on inclusion and access), value of care, and patient outcomes (which evaluates safety and satisfaction).

"At a time when communities are relying on them like never before, hospitals must rethink what it means to be great," says Dr. Vikas Saini, president of the Lown Institute, in a news release. "COVID-19 highlights how hospitals are essential community partners for anyone in need. To be great, however, a hospital cannot only provide care that's high in quality. It must also deliver value and advance equality. Our index is designed to help them do just that."

The Texas Medical Center's Memorial Hermann Hospital ranked as No. 9 on the list that evaluated over 3,000 hospitals in the country. The hospitals are also given a grade on each of the three categories. Memorial Hermann received an A for civic leadership, an A- for value of care, and an A+ for patient outcomes — for an overall A+ grade.

Based on ranking, the Houston area's top 10 hospitals, which all received an overall grade of A- or above, are:

  1. Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center (No. 9 in the country; No. 3 in the state)
  2. Harris Health System (No. 23 in the country; No. 5 in the state)
  3. Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital in Humble (No. 165 in the country; No. 15 in the state)
  4. Memorial Hermann Hospital System (No. 297 in the country; No. 17 in the state)
  5. Brazosport Regional Health System in Lake Jackson (No. 304 in the country; No. 18 in the state)
  6. The Woman's Hospital of Texas (No. 373 in the country; No. 25 in the state)
  7. Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital in Katy (No. 374 in the country; No. 26 in the state)
  8. Houston Methodist San Jacinto Hospital in Baytown (No. 627 in the country; No. 43 in the state)
  9. Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital in Sugar Land (No. 648 in the country; No. 44 in the state)
  10. Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center (No. 652 in the country; No. 45 in the state)

The Harris Health System ranked the highest in Houston for civic leadership, and the Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center scored the highest in the region for patient outcomes.

There were three other Texas hospitals among the top 10 in the nation — JPS Health Network in Fort Worth ranked as No. 1, Seton Northwest Hospital in Austin ranked as No. 4, and Parkland Health and Hospital System in Dallas ranked as No. 10.

The point of the study, according to the release, is to hold hospitals accountable for more than just one factor of success.

"There are some very fine hospitals that feel forced to focus on profitable elective procedures to stay in business," says Saini in the release. "This can lead to business decisions that make them look good on outcomes like mortality, but at the expense of equity. The data show that gaps between a hospital's clinical results and its performance in the community are sometimes very wide, which can contribute to disparities in care and put certain communities at risk."

The study factored in data from a variety of sources, including the 100 percent Medicare claims datasets (MEDPAR and outpatient); Internal Revenue Service pulled from Community Benefit Insight database; Healthcare Cost Report Information System administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; Securities and Exchange Commission filings; public records; Bureau of Labor Statistics; and other databases, according to the release.

"No other hospital ranking provides a 360-degree view of hospital performance," says Shannon Brownlee, senior vice president at the Lown Institute, in the release. "Many of the best-known hospitals score highly on patient outcomes but poorly on civic leadership and value of care. Our data show that it's possible to do well in all three categories, because some hospitals are doing it. That means all the people in their communities are being served effectively and fairly."

A Houston-based app, SAFE 2 SAVE, rewards drivers for putting their phones away while driving. Pexels

Houston safe driving app backed by Memorial Hermann plans Texas expansion

Put the phones down

Between 2016 and 2017, distracted driving accidents in Harris County rose 62 percent, according to the Texas Department of Transportation, and a local hospital system is stepping up to keep drivers and their passengers out of their emergency rooms.

Memorial Hermann's critical care air transport service Life Flight is partnering with app SAFE 2 SAVE to reward drivers who keep their minds focused and their eyes on the road. The app launched in Houston in January of 2016, and wants to expand to other Texas markets this year.

"Part of our role as trusted providers of high-quality trauma care for our community is to educate and empower people across the region to change behaviors that cause preventable traumas," Tom Flanagan, Memorial Hermann's vice president of Trauma Service Line and System Integration, says in a press release. "We are tapping into the technology that has become such a large part of people's lives and coincidentally, a major part of distracted driving."

The idea for SAFE 2 SAVE began when College Station pastor's wife Marci Corry, who previously worked for Merck — a large pharmaceutical company, met with a college student she was mentoring to discuss how to help the student's peers detach from their phones. They agreed that incentives, particularly food, were the key, and not just for college kids. Corry was inspired by the news of a Chick-fil-A franchise that used a "Cell Phone Coop" challenge to get customers to talk to each other and rewarded them for restricting their cell use with free ice cream at the end of the meal. "Let's do an app version of that!" she remembers saying at the time.

That was October 2016. In that time, the app has blown up to include a fan base of more than 148,000 users. The company has 20 employees, including two based full-time in Houston.

"We're so fortunate we have a product that everyone is interested in," says vice president of operations, Christina Rudolph. "We have such a unique place in the market because everyone likes our app. There aren't a lot of products to change behavior and food is such a motivator."

The sales team at SAFE 2 SAVE works hard to make the rewards appealing to a broad swath of users, not just college students, so while there are discounts at Chick-fil-A and Dave & Buster's, it's far from the whole story. In Houston, food options include free dishes at State Fare and discounts at Cacao & Cardamom, but also 20 percent off at Rooftop Cinema Club or discounted classes at Pure Barre.

For every minute of driving over 10 miles per hour without using their phones, users rack up two points. As long as users set navigation apps and music before they start driving, they can use those, too.

They can also earn more by referring friends. With enough friends on board, it's easy to organize a competition, a great incentive for family and friends to keep each other in check about safe driving.

"To get people to live a life that's less distracted, there's a ripple effect for users," Corry says of the human connection the app helps to foster.

SAFE 2 SAVE launched in Houston in January of 2018. Before that, Corry connected with Memorial Hermann at a Lifesavers National Conference on Highway Safety Priorities.

"They said, 'We want this to stop happening. We don't want these people being pushed through our door on a stretcher and this is epidemic in Houston,'" Corry says.

The sponsorship means that whenever users in Houston open the SAFE 2 SAVE app, they are met with the words, "Is it really worth it? Memorial Hermann Life Flight says no." The hospital logo is accompanied by a photo the user downloads of themselves with a loved one to remind themselves why their behavior matters.

"Our first step is to continue to go deep in Houston. If you can win Houston, you can win anywhere — it's the most distracted city in the nation," Corry says.

Already expanded to San Antonio, the company hopes to expand to Austin and Dallas this year. Once they hit 500,000 users, online brands are likely to join, making it easier to go nationwide. But until then, Houston has some serious work to do.


Marci Corry (left) started SAFE 2 SAVE in January of 2018. Christina Rudolph is the company's vice president of operations.

The merger that would have created the largest hospital system in Texas has been called off. Photo via memorialhermann.org

Major Texas hospital merger between Memorial Hermann and Baylor Scott & White called off

Discharged

Two Texas hospitals that were headed for union have called off their engagement plans, according to a joint statement. Dallas-based Baylor Scott and White and Houston-based Memorial Hermann announced in October that they were on track to combine forces following a letter of intent to merge and create a combined system.

The merger would have created a system with over 68 hospital campuses, 1,100 care delivery sites, almost 14,000 physicians, and serve almost 10 million patients each year, according to the October release. The more formalized agreement was expected this year.

"After months of thoughtful exploration, we have decided to discontinue talks of a merger between our two systems," the February 5 release states. "Ultimately, we have concluded that as strong, successful organizations, we are capable of achieving our visions for the future without merging at this time."

Jim Hinton, current CEO of Baylor Scott and White, was announced to be the system's CEO. Chuck Stokes, president and CEO of Memorial Hermann, was said to serve in the proposed office of the CEO, along with Baylor Scott and White president, Pete McCanna.

"We have a tremendous amount of respect for each other and remain committed to strengthening our communities, advancing the health of Texans and transforming the delivery of care," the release continues. "We will continue to seek opportunities for collaboration as two forward-thinking, mission-driven organizations."

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

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Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Houston SPAC announces merger with Beaumont-based tech company in deal valued at $100M

speaking of spacs

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.

Report: Federal funding, increased life science space drive industry growth in Houston

by the numbers

Federal funding, not venture capital, continues to be the main driver of growth in Houston’s life sciences sector, a new report suggests.

The new Houston Life Science Insight report from commercial real estate services company JLL shows Houston accounted for more than half (52.7 percent) of total funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) across major Texas markets through the third quarter of this year. NIH funding in the Houston area totaled $769.6 million for the first nine months of 2022, exceeding the five-year average by 19.3 percent.

VC funding for Houston’s life sciences sector pales in comparison.

For the first nine months of this year, companies in life sciences raised $147.3 million in VC, according to the report. Based on that figure, Houston is on pace in 2022 to meet or surpass recent life sciences VC totals for most other years except 2021. JLL describes 2021 as an “outlier” when it comes to annual VC hauls for the region’s life sciences companies.

JLL notes that “limited venture capital interest in private industry has remained a challenge for the city’s life sciences sector. Furthermore, it may persist as venture capital strategies are reevaluated and investment strategies shift toward near-term profits.”

While life sciences VC funding has a lot of ground to cover to catch up with NIH funding, there are other bright spots for the sector.

One of those bright spots is the region’s rising amount of life sciences space.

The Houston area boasts more than 2.4 million square feet of space for life sciences operations, with another 1.1 million under construction and an additional 1.5 million square feet on the drawing board, the report says. This includes a soon-to-open lab spanning 25,000 square feet in the first phase of Levit Green.

A second bright spot is the migration of life sciences companies to the region. Two Southern California-based life sciences companies, Cellipoint Bioservices and Obagi Cosmeceuticals, plan to move their headquarters and relocate more than half of their employees to The Woodlands by the first half of 2023, according to the report.

“Houston’s low tax rate and cost of living were primary drivers for the decisions, supported by a strong labor pool that creates advantages for companies’ expansion and relocation considerations,” JLL says.