COSHANDRA DILLARD, cdillard@tylerpaper.com

Sen. Ted Cruz led a roundtable on the challenge of rural health care Friday, with representatives from local hospitals, the city, county and economic entities in attendance.

The event was private and invitation only. 

Among the invited guests were Tyler Mayor Martin Heines, State Rep. Matt Schaefer, UT Health Northeast President Kirk Calhoun and Tom Mullins, president of Tyler Economic Development Council. 

"The purpose of this roundtable is to have a conversation," Cruz said. "… We want to see what we can do to improve our health care delivery system."

Before the discussion, Cruz outlined his priorities as a senator: economic growth, protecting freedom and national security.

"I believe those are the priorities of Texans," he said. 

Cruz criticized the Affordable Care Act, saying it was detrimental to job creation and affected the medical community's ability to care for patients. 

"You are dealing with this everyday," he told the group.

Calhoun said Cruz has been supportive of UT Health Northeast's recent efforts to address issues unique to the region. Health Northeast established the Center for Rural Community Health last year with the goal of changing the culture of health in the area, which exhibits some of the highest rates of cancer, heart disease, tobacco use and diabetes in the state. 

"We have some real health care challenges," Calhoun said. "I'm just glad one of our major political leaders has come to our community to discuss these issues with us."

Cruz heard from each participant specifically about those challenges, although, the press was not allowed to stay for that discussion. 

"During our discussion with Senator Cruz, we were able to express our thoughts on the many challenges we face in providing healthcare, particularly rural healthcare," he said later. "We are concerned about the closing of rural hospitals, particularly the ones here in East Texas. We are also faced with ever-changing healthcare regulations, which makes it difficult to operate efficiently. The provider shortages, especially the physician shortage, and the need to make healthcare more accessible for those who live in our community were also discussed."

Twitter:   @CDillard_TMT 

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