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Last Updated: 19 June 2014
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Sharp/Giroir: Texas A&M announces health care collaboration in South Texas

By John Sharp and Brett Giroir
[Texas
Texas A&M Health Science Center CEO Brett Giroir speaks about the Healthy Texas Initiative at McAllen Public Library on Tuesday. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)

COLLEGE STATION, June 17 - As one of the 20 most populous cities in Texas and the largest city in Hidalgo County, McAllen has made its mark as a pillar in the ever-vibrant and growing South Texas region.

Despite this, health disparities continue to plague communities throughout the area, with diabetes, asthma and infectious diseases topping the charts as the highest impact diseases afflicting South Texans. While that statement is troublesome in and of itself, the statistics are absolutely staggering.

According to the Perryman Group, a Texas-based economic forecasting company, in the 25 county South Texas region, the direct costs of health disparities in 2013 reached $1.3 billion. This area included the counties of Aransas, Bee, Brooks, Calhoun, Cameron, DeWitt, Duval, Goliad, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, Jackson, Karnes, Kenedy, Kleberg, Lavaca, Live Oak, Matagorda, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Starr, Webb, Willacy and Zapata.

As one of the 20 most populous cities in Texas and the largest city in Hidalgo County, McAllen has made its mark as a pillar in the ever-vibrant and growing South Texas region. Despite this, health disparities continue to plague communities throughout the area, with diabetes, asthma and infectious diseases topping the charts as the highest impact diseases afflicting South Texans. While that statement is troublesome in and of itself, the statistics are absolutely staggering.

According to the Perryman Group, a Texas-based economic forecasting company, in the 25 county South Texas region, the direct costs of health disparities in 2013 reached $1.3 billion. This area included the counties of Aransas, Bee, Brooks, Calhoun, Cameron, DeWitt, Duval, Goliad, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, Jackson, Karnes, Kenedy, Kleberg, Lavaca, Live Oak, Matagorda, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Starr, Webb, Willacy and Zapata.

The rates of increase in disease are growing alarmingly fast, as well: 42.3 percent of adults were obese, 19.5 percent of adults had diabetes and 3.6 percent of children had been diagnosed with asthma. If we do nothing, estimates are that it could cost the region up to $21.5 billion from 2014 to 2025.

These numbers should be concerning to all Texans, particularly the citizens of south Texas. The most shocking part of it all? Most, if not all, of these diseases can be prevented through education, monitoring and intervention. While that may sound logical and perhaps even simple on the surface, the fact remains that a viable, long-term solution to the region’s unmet public health needs requires collaborative, concerted efforts with partners united by a single goal — improved public health.

At the Texas A&M University System, we have that unified purpose. The land-grant roots of Texas A&M University translate into teaching, research and service — teaching and research at the highest levels and service applied at the grass roots to benefit the public good. By bringing together experts from medicine, nursing, pharmacy, biomedical science and public health we can improve both disease incidence and health care outcomes.

The good news is that right here in South Texas these assets already exist and thanks to the ingenuity, support and encouragement of state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, we will develop a program to make this vision a reality. Today we are announcing across the state a “land-grant solution to healthier lives” as we would describe it, which serves as the foundation for a groundbreaking initiative — the Healthy Texas Initiative.

The Healthy Texas Initiative will leverage Texas A&M’s health science capabilities and statewide agricultural extension community outreach to engage families, enhance education, promote behavior change and improve the quality of medical care and disease outcomes — particularly as it relates to diabetes, asthma and infectious diseases. Patients will be empowered with evidence-based education, monitoring and services to help reduce and prevent health disparities.

Healthy South Texas 2025 will serve as the program’s pilot, which aims to reduce diabetes, asthma and infectious disease by 25 percent by 2025. This may sound overly optimistic, but it is doable through combined resources and purpose, and it creates a tremendous opportunity for our state. Estimates are that Healthy South Texas 2025 could have a positive economic impact of $2.5 billion over that 10-year period.

This region’s proximity to the border and its effervescent cultural and economic fabric create an opportunity to build an innovative program that not only addresses regional needs, but also develops tools, technologies and strategies that can be applied to public health challenges around the state. In the end, we believe this will mean an increased quality of life for all Texans — thanks to a program piloted here in South Texas.

With the Healthy Texas Initiative’s pilot program launching in South Texas, in 10 years, this region will be on course to also rank as one of the healthiest in the nation. Together, we can save healthcare costs, but more importantly, we will save lives.

John Sharp is chancellor of the Texas A&M University System. Dr. Brett Giroir is CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center.


Write John Sharp and Brett Giroir

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