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EDINBURG, RGV – The incredible impact healthcare and bioscience industry has had on the San Antonio economy will also occur in the Rio Grande Valley, says Dr. Carlos Cardenas, chairman of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance.

Cardenas, immediate past president of the Texas Medical Association, was guest speaker at the Rio Grande Guardian’s first ever [email protected]’s luncheon event, held at Bob’s Steak & Chop House in Edinburg.

The live show was dubbed “Future of Healthcare in the RGV.” Cardenas spoke on a range of issues, including the fact that diseases do not respect international boundaries, the defeat of a referendum on a healthcare district for Hidalgo County, the growth of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, the hospital’s interaction with local safety net clinics and, probably with most passion, the longterm impact of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine.

Cardenas said Valley residents do not have to look far to see the impact a medical school can have, especially when tied to bioscience research.

“You look 240 miles north of us, in San Antonio, a group came together in that community, took some raw land that was farm land and ranch land and turned it into what it is today, the University of Texas Health Science Center,” Cardenas said. “The real driver in San Antonio, in terms of its economy, is not Fiesta Texas, is not Sea World. It is the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, and the spinoff of a corridor in the biosciences that is flourishing. It is creating an economy that is incredible.”

Trinity University professors Richard V. Butler and Mary E. Stefl conducted a study of the San Antonio economy for the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. The professors found that the healthcare and bioscience industry had economic impact in 2015 of $28.4 billion when measured conservatively, and approximately $37 billion by a more comprehensive estimate.

“The healthcare and bioscience industry continues to be one of San Antonio’s largest industries,” the professors said. “By the more comprehensive estimate, the industry paid $8.9 billion in wages and salaries to 172,094 employees in 2015.”

More than one of every six San Antonio employees works in the healthcare and bioscience industry, the study found.

“The healthcare and bioscience industry has added nearly 50,000 net new jobs over the past decade, fueling San Antonio’s growth. As one of San Antonio’s leading industries, healthcare and bioscience has shown steady growth and innovation over the past quarter-century.”

Cardenas predicted the same thing would happen in the Valley.

“We have got the talent, we have got the people in our community to make this happen. We are educating them all the time. You do not have to look very far to see the number of young people we have in our community. Our community is getting younger all the time. The median age is dropping from 28 to 26 in five years. That is incredible.”

Cardenas said the “spinoffs of what will come out of the biosciences is tremendous.” He said a particular synergy exists in the McAllen-Edinburg corridor through having UT-Rio Grande Valley and its school of medicine right up the street from its research division and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. “These things don’t happen by coincidence. Its is part of a single plan. There is not a single tier one school in this country that does not have a medical school associated with it. It made absolute sense to be able to grow that right here in our own community, and make that happen.”

A prerequisite for a medical school is graduate medical education, Cardenas explained.

“In order to recruit and retain doctors, we had to grow our own,” Cardenas said. “We are the flagship hospital for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. I am happy to say we are going to have our first group of medical students actually start to work on the wards, with our teams, in July. We are getting ready to graduate our first group of internal medicine residents, our first 12, half of them are staying in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Rubén Hinojosa was in the audience for the live show. Cardenas paid tribute to the former congressman for helping grow the region’s human capital, in part by his vision and leadership in developing South Texas College. He predicted the growth in human capital now underway in the Valley is going to propel the region to unparalleled heights.

Rio Grande Guardian Editor Steve Taylor and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance Chairman Dr. Carlos Cardenas. (Photo: Jacqueline Arias/RGG)

“Had it not been for him (Hinojosa), we would not be where we are as a community today; had it not been for his leadership and his willingness to step up and make STC happen. That is what makes it possible for us to be able to have the human capital that we need to be able to grow every aspect of our economy, every aspect of what propels the entire Rio Grande Valley forward,” Cardenas said.

Cardenas said the impact will be enormous.

“What we are seeing happen before our eyes is a transformation not only in healthcare. You are not going to believe what we are going to see happen in the next ten to 15 years. Some people are telling me that I am too long-sighted on that and that it is probably going to be five. But I think it will be between five and ten years, the growth in research and all those areas are going to be tremendous.”

Asked about the importance of UTRGV School of Medicine’s research division, Cardenas pointed out that the Valley was “ground zero” for many illnesses, most notably diabetes. He predicted the research division would help find a cure for diabetes.

“Diabetes is more prevalent in our community than in almost any other community in the United States. In fact, I think there is only one other ethnic group that has more diabetes than we do and that is the Pima Indians. In our neighborhood, 26 percent of our community is afflicted with diabetes. It knows no socio-economic boundary, it is a prevalent problem in our community.”

There are illnesses associated with diabetes that are “killing our people,” Cardenas said. He cited liver cancer.

“That is directly linked to fat liver disease, which has a direct link to obesity and diabetes. We are going to crack that, right here. That is going to happen right here in the Rio Grande Valley. It is going to happen right here at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. It is going to happen right here. We are building the building blocks to make that thing happen.”

The audience applauded Cardenas for saying that.

“We are creating a corridor for bio-medicine, we are creating the careers of the future. We have the raw talent in this community. We have students that we are sending all over the country to be educated in some of the finest schools anywhere in the world. Many of them are coming back, some of them to our school of medicine, others to become our residents and train as the next generation of physicians. It will be that next generation of physicians that helps to figure those things out. Those things are happening today. We are building the building blocks to find the answers to these solutions. This will be of major import to the rest of the country.”

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  1. There are two aspects of this that are concerning to me, both involve comparing the RGV to where San Antonio was 30 + years ago. First, at the time the biosciences industry was in its formative years, San Antonio already had a robust history of higher education, with no less than 5 universities pumping out graduates as well as hundreds of faculty already performing research, and an existing research base in the Southwest Research Institute that dates to 1947, not to mention what used to be 5 military bases, two of which housed their branch’s flagship hospitals (Brooke and Wilford Hall). We have a much weaker foundation in higher ed here in the RGV, where only 15% of our adult population has anything above a high school diploma.

    Secondly, as a finance guy, I’m trained to be concerned about concentration of revenue sources. If one customer represents 25-30-40% of your revenue, that is a risk. The article mentions that the HUGE bioscience sector in San Antonio represents 1/16th of the workforce. Looking at the latest TWC employment data, and assuming that those folk reside amongst the Health/Education, and Government sectors in TWC data, the combined impact of those sectors in the San Antonio economy TODAY is 28% of all employment in the San Antonio metro area. By contrast, before a biosciences sector is built in the RGV, the McAllen metro area is already grossly overdependent on the Health/Education and Government sectors, which today represent just over 1/2 (51%) of employment.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for the opportunities that the medical school might bring, but I’m concerned with the Nirvana-type promises coming from leaders in our region. A medical school will not be the panacea that cures all of our woes! Just last month a San Antonio Business Journal article highlighted stagnation in the SA biosciences sector due to a dropoff in federal grant funding. Growing a medical school and a biosciences sector is fine and good, but we mustn’t neglect growing a healthy and balanced local economy as well.