Ed Gallegos is proud of the Centene Corp. campus recently completed in Tyler, which offers a large cafeteria and daycare for employees.
“It’s a great building,” Gallegos, senior vice president of operations for the company, said. “I’m so proud of it. It’s a really good site.”
Founded as a single health plan in 1984, Centene provides health care-related services to organizations and individuals. The Tyler facility is a part of the company's national managed care system, processing claims from physicians, hospitals and other health care providers.
Centene has been in Tyler since 2012, when 100 employees were temporarily located in the former Down Under Pub & Grub on Old Grande Boulevard.
Gallegos, 54, is based at its headquarters in St. Louis and is in charge of all of Centene’s claim centers, as well as its office in Little Rock, Ark. He manages its 800 to 850 employees, who handle 45 million claims a year, he said. Since he started three years ago, it has more than doubled from the 22 million claims a year.
Centene also looked at Waco and Abilene but decided to build its Texas medical claims processing center in Tyler because the community was more conducive to what they were looking for, Gallegos said.
“We were glad to get into this complex,” he said. “It’s a great spot.”
The campus took a little more than a year to construct and is the first business to be on Earl Campbell Parkway and in the Tyler Industrial/Business Park.
Gallegos said the Tyler complex mirrors a lot of what they do at their other sites across the country, where they try to maximize space while creating a clean and safe environment “where people are glad to be coming to work here.”
He visits the different sites across the country every couple of months to be visible to the employees and was in Tyler on Feb. 19.
“I make it a habit to visit the folks I support,” he said. “I enjoy it.”
‘STATE OF THE ART’
While in Tyler, he showed off the “state-of-the-art” cafeteria.
“The food is really good,” he said, adding that they serve breakfast and lunch.
The cafeteria can hold 100 to 125 people. It has floor-to-ceiling glass windows that show off the daycare playground and the woods beyond it. It also connects to an outside patio for people to eat outside. Gallegos said when they bring in a family concept, such as employees getting to see the children play while they eat in the cafeteria, it makes it more than just a business.
“It brings it all together,” he said, adding that it factors into their low attrition rate. “It’s cost effective and it’s the right thing to do.”
Anna Marie Alberts is the director for the Bright Horizons Family Solutions children’s center, which opened in January.
“I think it’s really convenient that we’re right on site,” she said. “The employees seem to love it.”
They have an open-door policy, where parents can come visit their children during their break time or take them to the cafeteria for lunch. She said it is the fourth daycare Centene has at its nationwide facilities.
“We’re glad to be here in Tyler,” Ms. Alberts said.
The pre-school classroom, decked out with child-sized science lab and play areas, could house 20 students but so far has three.
“Everything is designed with children in mind,” she said, adding that they want to be a learning environment to prepare children for kindergarten.
They have the capacity for 64 children, ages 6 weeks to 5 years old. They also offer drop-in care for employees who need to use their services for one day.
The rooms all open up to the playground, which is also sectioned off for different age groups. The daycare has a kitchen, laundry room, staff lounge area and family resources room, where seminars can be held or parents can check out books or other resources. There is also a nursing mother’s area.
“We really encourage that family atmosphere,” Ms. Alberts said.
Gallegos said they offer daycare for discounted rates to Centene employees.
“We believe you want to bring the whole family into the workplace,” he said, adding that 80 percent of their employees are women.
Gallegos said they are thinking about adding a gym and are surveying the employees to see if they want it. Missouri has Centene’s only mail room, so one will be opened at the Tyler facility to help handle written medical claims.
The facility’s foundation was constructed to allow for the building to be added on to double its size and number of employees.
“At the rate we’re growing, I’m not sure where I’m putting people now,” Gallegos joked. “It’s a great problem to have.”
Centene in Tyler has about 125 employees but is looking to have 350 workers. Nearly all of the employees are claims analysts and the positions they need filled include clinical nurses, dieticians, pharmacists and information technicians.
Tom Middleton, 64, came from Tampa, Fla., as the new director for the Tyler center. He started Feb. 17 after Gallegos searched for seven months to fill the position. Gallegos said they also recently hired a human resources director.
Centene’s campus has two training rooms, where smart boards are used, and two learning labs, where struggling employees can go after training to receive one-on-one help. Gallegos said most of the trainers have gone through the ranks at Centene.
Before the campus was constructed, Centene partnered with Tyler Junior College to use its facilities for training its employees, who go through six to eight weeks of training to learn coding and how to process claims. He said they would like to have employees with some clinical experience but can train them if they don’t.
“We have our own language,” Middleton said, adding that if someone has worked in a clinical setting they have a better understanding of the terminology.
Employees handle medical claims for Centene from Texas and Mississippi while the company’s other centers in Farmington, Mo., and Great Falls, Mont., handles the other 19 states they cover, Gallegos said. About 80 to 100 employees in Tyler handle Texas claims and the rest handle Mississippi claims or behavioral health services.
There also are subsidiaries of Centene, including NurseWise and Nurture, stationed at the local campus.
NurseWise helps callers look at symptoms, for example, of a sick baby to help the parents decide if they should take them to the emergency room or wait for the doctor the next day. Nurture employees help people by coaching them on healthy pathways, such as what a diabetic should do to stay healthy, Gallegos said. They need to hire nurses for both divisions, he added.
Cenpatico Behavioral Health, another subsidiary, is also based out of the center.
One the first floor, analysts sit in cubicles while “hotel cubes,” half cubicles, await high school students who will do basic claims for Centene. The second floor full of cubicles sits mostly vacant, awaiting future employees.
Gallegos said they looked at four sites in Tyler but liked where they are because the TJC West Campus is close and Tyler Independent School District’s new Career and Technical Education Center is being built across the street. He said they would like to partner with the high school, which will have medical terminology and nursing curriculum, and want to use it as a pipeline for talent.