By JEREMY GOLDMEIER, News-Record Writer jgoldmeier@gillettenewsrecord.net

When Rio Tinto's Paul Taylor arrived in Gillette back in January 2007, the chatter had already started. Representatives from his company, along with Powder River Coal Co. and Foundation Coal West, were starting to collaborate on putting together a health care center for their employees. Considering that these were three of the biggest heavyweights in the national energy industry, coming together on a mutual agreement wouldn't be easy. A lot of lawyers had to get involved.

However, the companies knew what they wanted: broader access to primary care for workers. The success of their operations in Campbell County has fueled a fresh burst of population growth, putting the local health care industry in a numbers crunch. With primary care providers harder to find than ever, it made sense for the corporations to pool their considerable resources and work toward a common goal.

"I think we have more mutual respect for each other coming out of this process," Taylor said.

About two years after those first rounds of talks, the resulting Coalition Family Health Center began seeing its first patients Tuesday. The center is at 430 Medical Arts Court, the former site of cardiologist Laurence DeBoer's practice. Operating as the Wyoming Quality Healthcare Coalition LLC, the group of energy companies bought the 7,000-square-foot building from Antelope Medical Properties LLC on March 24.

From there, it was a matter of sprucing the place up, with Gillette's S&S Builders handling the bulk of the refurbishing work. On Monday, the center's employees led tours of the completed facility, which includes a fully operational pharmacy, a medical lab, a radiology unit, and a wellness area to help employees live healthier. Daphne Reid, assistant vice president of Take Care Health Systems (formerly CHD Meridian), says that one of the main focuses of the center is to get employees making informed health decisions before serious problems crop up.

Reid also oversaw the recruiting for the center's staff. They've now filled about 13 of an anticipated 16 positions. Most of the people brought aboard come from Campbell County or the surrounding area. One comes from South Dakota, another from Montana and another from Ohio. In addition to degrees and certifications, Reid was looking for the intangibles in her hires.

"We wanted someone who was enthusiastic, who took initiative and would go that extra mile," Reid said.

An official grand opening for the public should come sometime in October, Wyoming Healthcare spokesman Bob Green said.

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