December 20, 2023 626 PM
MARFA — Medical receptionist and face of the Marfa Country Clinic Irma Leos is retiring after 13 years with the business, which she helped kickstart.
A retirement party hosted by Leos’ family will take place Saturday, December 23, at the USO.
Dinner will be served at 6 p.m. followed by a dance from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Everyone is welcome.
Leos, along with Don Culbertson, Valerie Breuvart and Dr. John Paul Schwartz, played an instrumental role in establishing the Marfa Country Clinic back in 2010. Leos and Culbertson met while working at Preventative Care Health Services before setting out on their own — a move which gave Leos an opportunity to be herself, she said.
“To be able to embrace people, share my love, and share my feelings to support them when they come in, that was my goal since day one,” said Leos.
Leos has been helping run the clinic all these years, greeting patients, booking appointments, answering phones and, most importantly, providing that personal touch that is often lacking in medical establishments. The clinic has, in turn, deeply touched Leos who refers to it fondly as her calling and the love of her life.
“It’s a loving, caring place,” said Leos. “We try to pass that up to our patients and make them feel really special and that they are listened to — they’re heard when they come in.”
For Culbertson, Leos lent the fledgling clinic credibility in a tight-knit community. She interacted with patients in English and Spanish, helped serve tourists and lifelong locals, and provided helpful context about people and their lives to physicians. When a patient of theirs passes away, she and Culbertson go to pay their respects.
“Irma, besides just being a medical receptionist, is the face of our clinic, and also provides us with legitimacy and has allowed us to grow and become the clinic that we have,” said Culbertson. “That’s how important she is to this organization, and that’s part of the profound nature of her leaving.”
Dr. Christie Alexander, who served as the clinic’s main provider for two years before stepping down this past summer, said Leos “poured her heart and soul into her work,” even praying with patients who needed it at times.
“Before I started at the clinic, Don would say, ‘Remember: Irma is the boss. This clinic would not be what it is without her,’ And boy, is that ever true,” said Alexander.
Leos’ career has been defined by community service. She’s worked as a secretary at Marfa High School, as a caretaker with home health assisting the elderly, and as an outreach coordinator with Big Bend Community Action Committee — a nonprofit which assists citizens with utilities, food delivery, doctor transport and more.
That experience has helped inform her community-driven work at the clinic, she said. Among the accomplishments Leos is most proud of are the clinic’s outreach programs providing flu shots to the bank and the city, helping student athletes with physicals and more.
“We have tried to do as much as we can to bring the medical needs to our community,” said Leos.
She also touts the fact that Marfa Country Clinic has been a training ground for young medical professionals. One of the clinic’s first medical assistants, Natasha Rogall, is now a urologic physician’s assistant in Seattle. Dr. Marco Garcia, who grew up in Marfa and worked at the clinic, is now back helping part time while they search for a new full-time provider.
Leos saw the clinic through the pandemic and subsequent vaccination initiatives as well as the era before the local pharmacy, Prescription Shop Marfa, opened. At that time, Culbertson helped change the state law to allow for pharmaceuticals to be couriered to Marfa patients from Alpine.
“We’ve seen a lot of evolution just trying to get medication to our patients,” said Culbertson. “Besides running a clinic and seeing patients, we’ve been doing public health during COVID.”
Leos recalls being interviewed by previous owners of The Big Bend Sentinel Robert and Rosario Halpern when the clinic first opened 13 years ago. “I open my heart to everyone,” she remembers telling them — upon her departure she feels she’s done just that.
She’s received cash tips from patients in the past, a rarity for a medical receptionist, and has fostered positive relationships with delivery and lab drivers, giving out dulces and crackers.
Culbertson said Leos’ retirement marks “the end of an era” and a time for reinvention. Marfa Country Clinic’s search for a new medical provider continues, and plans to launch psychiatric care and comprehensive care management telemedicine programs are underway.
Leos said she is excited to celebrate her retirement with friends, family and the community at her party this weekend. She plans to relax for a while then potentially seek out a part-time job. Grappling with the thought of retirement has been difficult, she said, but she is confident that the clinic’s remaining staff will help move the business forward.
“I have a lot of faith in my staff and my bosses and everybody that this will continue to be successful,” said Leos.