MCALLEN, RGV – A co-founder of DHR Health says two events held on the same day just across the street from each other can be viewed as significant milestones in the delivery of quality healthcare in the Rio Grande Valley.

Dr. Carlos Cardenas attended both events. The first, held in the morning, was a news conference to announce DHR has received the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval as a Comprehensive Stroke Center. DHR is the only hospital south of San Antonio to achieve this certification. 

The second event, held in the late afternoon and early evening, was a ribbon-cutting ceremony for UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine’s first biomedical research building. The facility has been developed in conjunction with the City of McAllen and DHR Health. It is located near the intersection of Jackson Road and Dove Avenue in McAllen, just across the street from DHR.

Dr. Carlos Cardenas

“This is a Red Letter day for the Valley. It is the delivery on the promise, the vision that we had all those years ago when we first broke ground,” Cardenas said.

On the subject of the research center, Cardenas said: “We are delivering on the promise to work together with the UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine to conduct important research that we find on the bench and can bring to the bedside.”

He said: “To see this come to fruition from an institution that will do bench research to look a the problems that ail this community and find these solutions, to bring them to the table, that will help us deliver the care to this community.”

Cardenas said recognition needed to be given to the pioneers of healthcare in the Valley. “I am talking about more than 100 years ago, to have come from field hospitals and hospitals in the homes of physicians, to what we have today is phenomenal.”

Cardenas said: “At the same time as we conduct research we are delivering excellent neurosurgical care with a comprehensive stroke center, certified by the Joint Commission, the only one south of San Antonio. To have that happen all in one day is awesome.”

The Joint Commission oversees the accreditation of hospital organizations. 

With regard to the Comprehensive Stroke Center accreditation, Cardenas said that in order to receive such a distinction, hospitals must demonstrate 24/7 availability of specialists such as neurosurgeons, interventional neuro-radiologists, intensivists, and neurologists. He said a Comprehensive Stroke Center has to adhere to rigorous clinical protocols, perform high volumes of procedures, and demonstrate excellent clinical outcomes. The designation also requires a demonstrated commitment to stroke-related research.

Asked why biomedical research is important in the Valley, Cardenas said: “In the pediatric population, childhood leukemia in Mexican American children is different than in other ethnic groups. There is real differences between ethnicities in the treatment and approach to hyper-tension, ailments that plague our community. The research should happen in our community. The reason we had the vision about bringing a medical school and doing all of the things that go with it, this is the delivery on that vision.”

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM, Cardenas was asked about plans by DHR Health and UTRGV School of Medicine to created an academic health institution. Dr. John H. Krouse, dean of the school of medicine, spoke about it in-depth at DHR’s State of the Hospital Address in December and at briefly at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the biomedical research building.

“It is about laying the groundwork from the future, not only for what the academy will do for healthcare but what I think it will do when you look at economic development for our area. We do not have to look very far. Look just 240 miles north of us. There is a little experiment that began on a field just like this one. It grew it into the UT Health Science Center San Antonio and all of the attendant research and all of the things that have happened in San Antonio. When you look at the economic boom that came to that community. I think you will see a repeat of that here.”

All that has to happen to achieve that dream is to stay true to the vision, Cardenas added.

McAllen Mayor’s Perspective

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling

The Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM also interviewed McAllen Mayor Jim Darling at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“This is the first building for the research center. I am looking forward to the second and the third but I do not want to get ahead of myself. I think this is the future, the future of medicine and the future of the Valley,” Darling said.

Darling said that when the City of McAllen developed the property it invested about $5 million in the land and infrastructure. 

“We are not involved in the cost of construction, more the employment of researchers. We support the university. Rather than just hand over a check, we wanted to say, here is a program we would like to sponsor, the research of cancer,” Darling said.

“I think it brings us closer as a community to the medical school. We did a million last year to get things set up and now we are giving another million. Our money will go towards the hire of a specific team. This is a commitment to research and we will be a partner for many years. Hopefully we will find a cure for some terrible cancer.”

UTRGV SOM Dean’s Perspective

Dr. John H. Krouse, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine

The Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM also interviewed Dr. Krouse at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“This is a chance for us to leverage the resources of the university to bring researchers from around the country to work on diseases of importance to the Valley. That is what we are doing here in this building,” Krouse said.

Asked about plans to develop an Academic Health Center with DHR Health, Krouse said: “Everywhere else in the country that has a large academic health center there is a partnership between academic hospitals and a university. Together they build research institutes, they grow educational enterprise, they grow the clinical services, so that is what we are planning to do, to work closely with DHR.I think mutually we are committed to a partnership where we can continue to do that.”

Krouse added: “We have been able to attract top notch researchers from around the country. In this building we are brining 15 researchers from out of the state that will relocate here. That is what we want to do, to grow the enterprise here in the Valley, to take care of those problems that occur in the Valley.”

UTRGV President’s Perspective

UT-Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was opened by UT-Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey. He acknowledged the biomedical research center has been a long time coming.

“It is one of the most important things we will ever do. When I first came here and looked to our needs as an institution, what became clear to me is that we needed a place just like this to do research. This is a long time dream come true. We will have a number of researchers in here. Some of the most exciting things that will happen in the Rio Grande Valley will happen in this facility.”

Bailey said there is good and bad news associated with the new building. The good news, he said, is that the School of Medicine will put people to work in the facility from next week. 

“You know what the bad news is, it will be full. Is there room for another (one) right out here?” Bailey asked the audience. He was told there is room for a couple more building. To which Mayor Darling joked, “I just saw Mr. Cantu running to get the bulldozers out there. They will be starting.” He was referring to Alonzo Cantu, a co-founder of DHR Health and Cantu Construction.

“The real metric of our success is putting up buildings like this,” Bailey said. “This is the first, it will not be the last, I guarantee you. Some exciting things are happening.” 

Bailey added: “This is one of the most significant things we will do. It is the first step in building what I think will be a massive research infrastructure. Our research has been growing by leaps and bounds. We started out bringing in a group of researchers, our diabetes and obesity group, They have been stunningly spectacular. 

“When you look at this building, here is what you should think: When we brought Sarah and John (Blangero) here, I think there were 22 of them and they had about $12 million in funding. There are now 52 of them and they have over $30 million in external funding. That is what you can expect right here. The impact that this will have is enormous.”

School of Medicine News Release

According to a UTRGV School of Medicine news release, the new biomedical research building will provide “laboratory, classroom and collaborative space for investigators working in the areas of cancer, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders, and other areas of research important to the Rio Grande Valley community.” 

The news release said the facility was made possible through a collaborative effort of UTRGV, DHR Health and the City of McAllen. “The city donated the land, and the building – located on DHR Health’s South Campus – will be leased to UTRGV by DHR Health and DHR Real Estate Management, L.L.C.”

In the news release, Dr. Krouse said: “This new facility allows us to continue our work together to build an academic health center, a place where the next generation of healthcare professionals and scientists train, but as in Dallas, and San Antonio and Houston, the place where medical breakthroughs happen and where patients receive the world’s best care.”

The facility will house researchers from the departments of Neuroscience, Human Genetics, Immunology and Microbiology, and Molecular Science. It also will be the home of the School of Medicine’s new cancer immunology institute.

The 83,032 square-foot facility includes:

  • 16 research labs and support spaces.
  • Two classrooms.
  • Three collaboration/meeting rooms.
  • Two small conference rooms.
  • One large conference room.
  • 40 private office and administrative support spaces.
  • A nursing mothers’ suite.
  • Vivarium.
  • Common areas.

Editor’s Note: The Rio Grande Guardian will be posting a separate story about DHR Health’s Comprehensive Stroke Center accreditation later this week.