The Day a Community Bank Saved a Front-Line Medical Practice from Ruin

By Kerry Curry Senior Communications Writer

Dr. Guy Culpepper, a family doctor for 32 years, started with just two employees and grew Bent Tree Family Physicians (Bent Tree) in Frisco, Texas, into a powerhouse 16-provider group with over 70 employees and 25,000 patients.

As COVID-19 infections began to spread in mid-March, he gathered his staff to prepare for the unknown. They made and answered thousands of calls to cancel routine visits and update patients’ prescriptions while the office was essentially closed during the state’s stay-at-home orders – while just a trickle of revenue was coming in.

Within three weeks, Bent Tree’s $500,000 buffer it had saved for a rainy day was gone, and Dr. Culpepper applied for a Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loan.

In the meantime, Bent Tree established a COVID-19 testing site outside its offices and continued to see a handful of its sickest patients. Soon, over a week had passed since he’d filed his PPP application and his big bank – a partner for over a decade – was silent. Finally, he called and learned his fate: PPP funding had run out.

Dr. Culpepper said he hung up the phone, dejected, wondering how a successful family practice on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight had been left on the sidelines. He gathered his employees and laid them all off until he could figure out who he could afford to bring back.

When a second round of PPP funding was offered, Dr. Culpepper said he decided to reach out to a community bank. He chose Vista Bank. He had seen CEO John Steinmetz featured in a local business magazine, and his nephew knew one of Vista Bank’s employees. He used that family connection to express interest in a second-round PPP loan.

The next day, the phone rang and Vista Bank CEO John Steinmetz was on the line.

“He called me on a Saturday afternoon; called me as if we were old college friends or something,” Dr. Culpepper recalled. “He said, ‘Hey Guy, we are going to get you the loan. We are going to stay in touch every day, and we will make sure your paperwork is done properly,’” Dr. Culpepper recalled. “He said, ‘If something falls through on the PPP loan, because you are doing such a community service, I will work with you to find other financing. I’m not going to let a vibrant family practice go under in our community.’”

A wave of raw emotion hit as Dr. Culpepper recounts the conversation. “It felt like he was reaching out to say, ‘Hey, you don’t need to fail.’”

Within about a week, the practice had received an $860,000 PPP loan, enough to bring back about 85 percent of Dr. Culpepper’s staff. “They literally saved our practice; it was a happy ending,” he said. “I want all of America to have a happy ending.”