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HARLINGEN, RGV – The president of UT-Rio Grande Valley has praised Harlingen leaders for having the foresight over many years to bring medical education to their city.

Dr. Guy Bailey sung the praises of Harlingen in an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian while hosting a groundbreaking ceremony for the eagerly-awaited UTRGV School of Medicine Institute for Neuroscience.

“This work predates my being here, or this university being here. It goes back to the vision of the leadership of Harlingen, the South Texas Medical Foundation here, the city, the EDC all working together,” Bailey said. “This is what happens when things work in harmony.”

Bailey said the Institute for Neuroscience is a “huge” project for UTRGV School of Medicine.

“The research and the clinic work that is done here will be very important for the health of the Valley. Everything from concussion to post-traumatic syndrome, everything that affects neurology will be treated here and researched here, so we are very excited,” Bailey told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“I am also excited because this is the fruition of a great partnership with the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation. Without that foundation this would not exist. This is truly what happens when you have a partnership between the medical foundation, the legacy foundation and the university. When you are a university president and you think about how things ought to work, this is it. This is a model for how things should work.”

Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation announced in 2017 that it would donate $15 million to the Institute for Neuroscience project. Going back a lot further, the City of Harlingen purchased 35 acres of land for a medical school two decades ago, later setting up the South Texas Medical Foundation to oversee their efforts.

Editor’s Note: The above podcast comprises raw material from the groundbreaking ceremony.

“This is just one more step in fulfilling the commitment this community made to the University of Texas System to help develop this regional academic health center and then medical school,” said Randy Whittington, president of the South Texas Medical Foundation.

Whittington pointed out that the South Texas Medical Foundation was set up almost a decade ago, before UT-Rio Grande Valley and its school of medicine were formed.

“We were created in 2010 and we acquired the land shortly after that. It was originally purchased by the City of Harlingen and the development corporation. They donated it to the foundation in order to preserve it for this purpose,” Whittington said.

“Our hope was always that it would become part of the campus of the medical school and now part of the campus of the new university, which nobody even knew about back then.”

The Institute of Neuroscience is being developed on the corner of Haine Drive and N. Whalen Road in Harlingen and should be completed sometime next year.

Whittington said there is more medical education development to come.

“There is another piece (of land) over here, across the ditch, that is going to be donated to the university as part of the campus. Right now it is probably about 75 acres of land that has been donated by this community to the university,” he said.

Asked when Harlingen leaders first started work to bringing medical education to the city, Whittington said:

“We started in 1997, the minute Senator Lucio’s bills passed the legislature. It has been a while. But, it took a long time to get to that step. I have said many times we started the year I was born and that was 73 years ago. It took a long time to get everybody else on board.”

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, who filed the legislation to set up with the Regional Academic Health Center and the UTRGV School of Medicine, was at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Asked about the importance of the new institute, Whittington said:

“It is part of the vision that was in the Affordable Care Act for brain health research. This particular institute will be involved in research, treatment, education. Hopefully we will have a residency program in neurology and thing like that. We have a population of senior citizens in the Rio Grande Valley who need a lot of attention and a lot of research to deal with their issues. This will help with that and a whole bunch of other things. And, it is only going to take up a small portion  of this 35 acres is we hope this will be the beginning of a complex of research and education facilities.”

Asked if STMF played a role in the decision to focus on neurological research and education on the 35 acres it donated to UTRGV, Whittington said: “The School of Medicine made that decision but we were delighted with it. Obviously, it was assisted by a $15 million grant from the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation. They gave it to UTRGV to jump start this institute.”

Mayor Boswell’s Perspective 

Like Bailey and Whittington, Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Asked about Harlingen leadership’s longterm interest in having a medical education institution in its city limits, Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell told the Rio Grande Guardian:

“I am so proud of the City of Harlingen over decades for supporting the development of medical education in the Rio Grande Valley. It has been a passion of many of the people in this community, of Randy Whittington and his wife, and Bob and Anne Shepard, and many others who have contributed to making this a reality.”

In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Boswell paid tribute to Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, the former chancellor of UT.

“It was the recommendation of Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, who, at the time, was the president of UT Health Science Center-San Antonio and, of course, later chancellor of the University of Texas System. He told us, go acquire some more land. He said it does not have to be right next to the Regional Academic Health Center, but close proximity would be good. So, that is what we did.”

Boswell said of the groundbreaking:

“It is a great day, not just for the city of Harlingen but the Rio Grande Valley and all of South Texas. As the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley expands its footprint here with the building of this Institute for Neuroscience, it will be an important component of the School of Medicine and will advance opportunities for the treatment of so many different brain health situations. And so we are just delighted and excited to have this kind of facility adding to the many great things that the UT school is doing here in the Valley.”

Boswell said Harlingen leaders have always seen the issue as a quality of life matter, rather than an economic development one.

“It is something that will provide greater healthcare opportunities to the people of our city and the Rio Grande Valley, so that you do not have to leave our area to get quality healthcare or specialty healthcare but through medical education and the research and the specialties that come with that you will be able to serve our communities better and have a better quality of life.”

Asked about the need for mental health facilities in the Valley, Boswell said:

“We see throughout our country, not just this region the critical need for advanced mental health care and care of the brain. We have lots of returning veterans who have experiences that will probably benefit from the ability to come to a facility like this and to receive and not only be part of research but be part of the treatment and positive outcomes.”

Boswell added that there is a lot more development to come, thanks to the collaboration of the City of Harlingen and UT.

“We have this 35 acres that was basically donated by the City of Harlingen to first the South Texas Medical Foundation and then the medical foundation and UTRGV found a way to utilize this site for this great big building but there is plenty of room here for additional expansion, which is what we hope we will see,” Boswell said.

“There will be a general education campus that will be utilized in partnership with HCISD as an early college high school but will also be used for university classes later in the day. And so it will be a great partnership, a marriage of both sides of UTRGV, the general education and the school of medicine.”

Dr. John H. Krouse, dean of UTRGV School of Medicine said the two-story building will have clinics and diagnostic centers for numerous neuropsychiatry and aging disorders.

“It is going to have research facilities for both psychiatric and neurologic disorders. It is going to have imaging facilities, including MRI and CT scans, and it is going to have a center for clinical trials,” Krouse said.

Editor’s Note: The Rio Grande Guardian has raw audio from the groundbreaking ceremony. This will be added to the above story in our next edition.

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