EDINBURG, September 26 - The creation of a hospital district in Hidalgo County would positively impact the lives of colonia residents one hundred fold, says Cris Rivera, CEO of Rio Grande Regional Hospital.
Rivera is part of the Healthy Hidalgo County Political Action Committee that is working hard to get a “yes” vote in the hospital district referendum in November. She said that because she is fluent in Spanish she is ready to visit the colonias to explain the importance of a hospital district in the lives of colonia residents.
“A hospital district in Hidalgo County is going to impact the lives of colonia residents one hundred fold. These individuals tend not to be able to access healthcare because they cannot afford it. Now, there will be an opportunity for them to do be able to do that,” Rivera said, explaining that the creation of a hospital taxing district will allow the county to leverage more federal funding for healthcare, including more clinics.
According to HHC PAC, for every local dollar invested, the federal government will match that dollar with $1.50. “By leveraging our local monies, we can access millions of additional dollars. That means there will be more money in healthcare generally,” Rivera said.
Rivera explained that taxes raised by the hospital district will help pay for the healthcare of the indigent population, a group she described as “the poorest of the poor.” And, she said, the taxes raised will also help fund the UT-Rio Grande Valley Medical School. “There should be no discrimination between a colonia student and a student in another area of the country. No discrimination whatsoever in their ability to get into the medical school and this will open the doors for all our students,” Rivera said.
According to Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia, another supporter of the hospital district, a homeowner with a home worth $100,000 would pay an additional $7 a month in property taxes to pay for the hospital district. Rivera said no one likes paying more in taxes but creation of a hospital district is worth it. She said an estimated $12 million in local taxes raised will be matched with federal funds to pay for part of the cost of providing medical care to indigent individuals and their families, while an estimated $5 million will pay for the local share of the new UTRGV medical school.
“I understand it is a sacrifice of paying taxes, nobody likes to pay more taxes. But, I think this is an investment in the future for the people of the Rio Grande Valley because the hospital district will provide better healthcare, better education,” Rivera said. “It will give us an opportunity to take care of the indigent population, the poorest of the poor and give our students an opportunity to expand their education in the medical field. And, it is not only physicians. It is nurses, it is respiratory therapists, pharmacists, medical technologists, it is everyone in the healthcare industry that has an opportunity to expand their education and career and they will be able to give back to the Rio Grande Valley by working here,” Rivera said.
Dr. Carlos Cardenas, chairman of the board of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, is equally as passionate as Rivera about setting up a hospital district. At the rollout of the “Vote Yes on Proposition 1” campaign at Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, Cardenas told the story of how, 47 years ago, as an eight year old at Crockett Elementary School in McAllen, he dreamt of becoming a physician and coming back to serve his community. He pointed out that there were few sub-specialists in the Rio Grande Valley back then.
“What a beautiful time for us to be sitting at the crossroads of history. What is getting ready to happen in our community is nothing short of transformative. What is going to happen is something our parents and the generation before them only dreamt about,” Cardenas said. He said the medical school was 60 years in the making and now was the time to push the ball across the goal line.
Why is it important to vote “yes” on the hospital district, Cardenas asked, before answering the question himself. “It is important that all of us become part of something that is bigger than ourselves. Every member of our community has an opportunity to do that by voting yes, so that every eight year old in every elementary school in South Texas can dream about attending a medical school that is in their backyard. They can dream about becoming a sub-specialist to take care of their abuelitos and abuelitas, their tios and their , their aunts and uncles and all of the members of their community, many of whom may not be able to go north of Falfurrias for care.”
Cardenas said that to be able to do that would be a great thing. “To sit at the crossroads and have the opportunity to vote yes and make something wonderful happen; that is what this is really all about. It is about the future, it is about having a dream. It is about watching the dream come to reality. It can happen. It happened for me, it happened for others.”
Cardenas said studies show that 60 percent of medical students stay within a 150-mile radius of where they trained. “That is why it is so important to have a medical school in South Texas with the associated residency programs. With that we will build that infrastructure that we need moving into the future. As one of the fastest growing MSAs in the country, one of the few areas where you can actually watch the median age of the population drop, as it has in this community from 28 to 26 in five years, that need is urgent. A vote yes is a vote for our future, a vote for opportunity, a vote for our children and it is a vote for the care of our elderly and those that are less fortunate than ourselves.”
In addition to Rivera, Cardenas and Mayor Garcia, other speakers at the “Vote Yes on Proposition 1” marketing campaign were Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza, and McAllen Medical Center CEO Elmo Lopez.
For more information about the Hidalgo County Hospital District proposal, go to the Healthy Hidalgo County PAC website, http://healthyhidalgocounty.com/