BROWNSVILLE, December 29 - A legendary Brownsville physician has thrown his weight behind efforts to create a four-year medical school in the Rio Grande Valley.
Dr. Lorenzo R. Pelly has provided medical care for thousands of patients since arriving in Brownsville in 1982. He has just been named 2012 Physician of the Year by Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville.
A participant in “The Prime Project,” which seeks to revamp medical education in the state of Texas, Pelly gave his thoughts on the need for a medical school to reporter Ron Whitlock for the Ron Whitlock Reports TV show.
“Either we treat the patients here or send the patients to San Antonio, Houston or Dallas at great expense. Having a medical school provides primary care physicians that are so badly needed in this area,” Pelly told Whitlock.
Pelly said the Valley should be able to look after its own patients and not send them to the big metropolitan areas of Texas for specialist treatment.
“I have transferred patients with heart attacks by air ambulances. It is beyond the pale the lack of medical services in the Rio Grande Valley,” Pelly said.
“Every day of my life I have to help somebody that has no insurance to provide medical care, scrounging samples of medications from my closet. I have done this for 30 years and it is not getting any better. By having the medical school in the Rio Grande Valley we will provide precedence to the health care system of this part of the world.”
Under plans unveiled by the UT System, the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) will be transferred from the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio to a new university in the Valley that would incorporate UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American. Under the plan, the RAHC would be expanded to become a four-year medical school.
Pelly’s views on the medical school have not been shared by all Valley physicians over the years. About 15 years ago, physicians in McAllen opposed having the RAHC in their city. As a result it was built in Harlingen.
In a statement, Valley Baptist Health System said its Physician of the Year nomination process involved securing input from hospital staff on “physicians who embody the ultimate in patient care, professionalism and courtesy to patients, their families and hospital employees.”
The System described Pelly as “a caring doctor who goes the extra mile, putting in countless hours to take care of his patients and educating the hospital staff on new protocols, techniques, and ways to constantly improve care.”
According to Valley Baptist-Brownsville employees who work closely with Dr. Pelly, he is accessible and responsive – always available as needed and never too busy when an emergency arrives. “Regardless of a patient’s ability to pay, he is always willing to lend a hand and provide whatever care is necessary,” a hospital employee stated, in nominating Dr. Pelly for the award.
Valley Baptist Health System said Pelly’s priorities focus on providing “quality patient care and optimal outcomes for each patient.” In nominating Pelly as Physician of the Year, Valley Baptist employees said he has “dedicated his life to caring for his patients with compassion, patience and a commitment to excellence.”
Leslie Bingham is CEO of Valley Baptist Medical Center. She said she has worked with Pelly for eight years and has “witnessed first-hand his absolute dedication to his patients and to the practice of medicine.”
Dr. Pelly said he appreciated being nominated for the award “by the people who know me best” – the nurses and staff at Valley Baptist-Brownsville.
“I have spent 30 years in this community and I have given it my all … but mostly my reward has been helping thousands of patients over these three decades by providing compassionate care,” Pelly said.
Pelly has been a frequent visitor to the state Capitol over the years to testify on healthcare along the Texas-Mexico border region. He was once asked by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, what can happen to those in the Valley that cannot afford health insurance. In a deadpan delivery, Pelly replied, “well, they simply die.” Lucio said he has never forgotten this. “So, basically, people are having to die because they cannot afford to live. That should not be happening in the United States of America,” Lucio said.
Pelly has also been recognized by the Texas Senate for his work. He participates in numerous coalitions aimed at improving the community and healthcare in the Valley, including efforts with the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services “Care Transitions Project,” which seeks to reduce and eliminate unnecessary re-admissions to hospitals for heart failure and other conditions.
Pelly has also served as assistant professor of medicine at the UT Health Science Center-San Antonio’s Regional Academic Health Center, and as medical director of the respiratory therapy and emergency medical technologies programs at the University of Texas at Brownsville.
Pelly has also served as medical director for several nursing home and other health care providers in the Valley, and as a board member for Solara Hospital Brownsville. And, he co-founded Valley Doctor’s Clinic, a group of physicians which has included three intensive care specialists, four internal medicine physicians and a family practitioner.
Originally from Cuba, Pelly and his wife Maria Pelly have two sons, Michael and Rami, both of whom are pilots, and a daughter, Daphna; as well as three grandchildren.
Pelly has been interviewed on national television regarding border health care issues, and was recognized in the book “The Power to Heal” for volunteering in the treatment of hundreds of Latin American refugees in conjunction with a Red Cross initiative.
Pelly completed a residency in internal medicine at St. Mary’s Health Center in St. Louis, Missouri in 1982, after finishing medical school at the Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Mexico in Toluca, Mexico in 1979. He received an undergraduate degree in biology from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri in 1974.