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South Texas College held a news conference at its Dr. Ramiro R. Casso Nursing & Allied Health Campus in McAllen to celebrate the passage of Senate Bill 2118.

McALLEN, RGV – Dr. Carlos Cardenas, chairman of the board and chief administrative officer at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, did not have a speaking role at a recent South Texas College news conference.

Had he spoken, he would have gladly added to the superlatives on offer at the event, such as “historic,” “monumental” and “landmark.”

The news conference was held to announce that STC had been granted permission by the Legislature to start a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program, subject to accreditation. The event was held at STC’s Dr. Ramiro R. Casso Nursing & Allied Health Campus in McAllen.

Dr. Carlos Cardenas

“Today is an historic day,” Cardenas told the Rio Grande Guardian. “This is an example of the transformation that is going on in this community, as we continue to build a world class health system in the Rio Grande Valley. One step at a time, this is another brick in that foundation.”

Cardenas was in the audience for the news conference. Among the speakers were Wanda Garza, executive officer for external affairs at STC, state Sens. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Kathy Dassler, chief nursing officer at Rio Grande Regional Hospital, and Dr. Jayson Valerio, interim dean of Nursing and Allied Health at STC.

In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Cardenas pointed out that there is a “chronic shortage” of nurses, not just in the Valley but across Texas. According to the National Academy of Medicine, there needs to be at least an 80 percent increase in the number of baccalaureate-prepared nurses in the workforce by 2020, in order to meet demand. Cardenas said giving STC the ability to address that shortage is huge for the Valley.

“This allows those with an associate degree in nursing to move up and get a bachelor of science degree in nursing, which is huge for our area. It provides us the human capital we need to grow our healthcare delivery system. There is no reason that a community of 1.3 to 1.4 million people shouldn’t have the same level of care as is available in every other major metropolitan area in the state,” Cardenas said.

Cardenas cited information provided by STC’s Garza in her remarks: that, on average, 80 percent of students graduating from STC stay in the Valley. “That is great news for anybody in healthcare,” he said.

Cardenas also picked up on a comment Sen. Hinojosa made – that STC is quick to adapt to the needs of industry when developing its educational programs.

“This is a community college that has been the backbone of providing the skills necessary to develop the human capital needed in our community. And it is not just in nursing. This is just another example. The willingness to be innovative, the willingness to pull together and offer a bachelor of science degree in nursing, at the same facility as a program that is the first of its kind in the country, that offers an associate degree in nursing to high school students as a pilot project, is incredible,” Cardenas said.

“This will give our youth the career opportunities they aspire to. It will give them an opportunity to chase their dreams and to give back to their community. That is great news for those of us in the healthcare industry. The shortage of nurses has been chronic and ongoing for some time. This at the same time we are experiencing unparalleled growth, when you compare us to other parts of the state and other parts of the country.”

Cardenas, who is also president of the Texas Medical Association, said one word sums up the healthcare industry in the United States right now: change

“At a time of rapid change, it is those education institutions that are nimble, that can think outside the box, that can be innovative and develop programs that provide high quality education, provide high quality students, to meet the demands of a fast-growing healthcare sector, those are the institutions that will succeed,” Cardenas said.

“This is what we are seeing with today’s announcement. I think we will look back at this in 20 years and go ‘wow.’ We will say, what did we do? What a fantastic accomplishment. It was a move at the right time and at the right place.”

Senate Bill 2118, authored by the state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, permits any community colleges to offer certain baccalaureate programs in the fields of applied technology, applied science, early childhood education, and nursing, if they receive the necessary accreditation.

However, Sen. Hinojosa said it was the State of Texas’ confidence in South Texas College that helped get the legislation passed.

“STC has a record of excellence in graduating students, both in terms of an all-round education and in new skills. STC stands out throughout the state of Texas. Plus, the leadership. Dr. Shirley Reed has the vision for what the next step should be for the college,” Hinojosa told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“It is rare that the Legislature allows a community college to offer a bachelor’s degree. But STC has such an excellent education and great leadership. They are well-known throughout the state for providing a quality education for South Texas.”

Hinojosa agreed with Cardenas that nursing is a key ingredient for the Valley’s growth and its healthcare system.

“You can have all the doctors you want and all the medical equipment you need. But, without a nurse you will not be able to function or perform. So, for us, to have a nursing program that will offer a bachelor of science degree is a great step in trying to address the shortage of nurses we have in the Valley. However, it was a priority for us and working together as a team, we got it done.”

Hinojosa paid tribute to STC’s leadership, particularly Reed and Garza, for securing passage of SB 2118.

“Shirley Reed and Wanda Garza spent a lot of time in Austin during the session. That was true commitment and leadership. They got to know the staff and the legislators and they advocated eloquently for what is best for South Texas,” Hinojosa said.

Wanda Garza

In her interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, STC’s Garza said it was right that words like “monumental” and “historic” were used liberally at the news conference.

“I would call it a landmark day. Think about it. The State of Texas is opening the door to community colleges to offer a BSN. SB 2118 is a landmark piece of legislation. Historic. There are fifty of us (community colleges) but you have to meet certain criteria. You have to meet certain requirements, such as be accredited at Level 2, like we are. We are already there,” Garza said.

Garza said if the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approve STC’s BSN program, it will be the fifth and final four-year degree program STC can offer. The other four are Technology Management, established in 2005, Computer and Information Technologies, established in 2008, Medical and Health Services Management, established in 2011, and Organizational Leadership-Competency Based, established in 2014.

Garza said she has no doubt STC can deliver a great BSN program.

“We have over ten years of experience with four-year degrees. Our goal is to meet the needs, which means more buildings and more staff. We have a consortium with the hospitals. They are going to help us with the talent we are going to need. They may have to pitch in and help us with some of the faculty and things like that. We are going to be very innovative,” Garza said.

Asked if there were any other comments she would like to make, Garza said she wanted to pay tribute to the Valley legislators, particularly state Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission, and UT-Rio Grande Valley.

“Getting this legislation passed was a real nail-biter. There were floor amendments, which meant it had to go to a conference committee. If our legislators had not followed this legislation from the beginning of the session it would have been tough getting it through. They knew how important it was. And it was critical having Sergio Munoz on the conference committee. He was awesome. It was around 6 p.m. on that last day that we got it through. It was nerve-wracking, incredible,” Garza said.

“We said it took a community to get this passed and I am very proud UTRGV stepped up and supported us. Other parts of the state did not have that collaborative spirit. They (UTRGV) knew they did not have the capacity. They recognized that increasing capacity was the only way for us to get to where we need to be. We are just very grateful to them.”

Garza added: “Think about it, our students are not going to have to travel outside the area to get their BSN. For us, that is world class. They are going to be in a very competitive position. They are going to be ready. You can see we have a state of a state of the art facility for them. There is a lot more to come.”

At the conclusion of the SB 2118 news conference, STC’s Valerio told Ron Whitlock Reports:

“The passing of SB 2118 granting South Texas College the legislative authority to offer the Bachelor of Science in Nursing is great for our students, the community, and the region as well. It is testimony that we are proactively responding to the healthcare needs of our community.

“A review of the Rio Grande Valley’s nursing workforce datasets confirms the need for more nurses, especially more nurses with higher degrees to meet the healthcare needs of a population with a greater prevalence of certain diseases along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Our mission at the Nursing & Allied Health Division is to produce safe, caring, and competent healthcare practitioners meeting the healthcare needs of our growing diverse community. The approval of the SB 2118 will pave the way for our students and current RNs who are now working in the different health care settings to furthering their education.”