McALLEN, RGV – On a visit to the Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday, Dr. Brett Giroir, CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center, explained why A&M is investing so heavily in South Texas.
“Some people say, are you here because of all the problems in South Texas. I say, no, it is not at all and you are missing the point. We are here because of the promise of South Texas,” Giroir said, while attending the signing of an articulation agreement between his institution and South Texas College.
The signing took place at TAMHSC’s McAllen campus. Its director, Olga Gabriel hosted the event.
Giroir described the Valley economy as “dynamic and vibrant,” noting it is one of the fastest growing regions in the nation. And the community spirit here that is palpable. When you walk here and you see everyone working together you feel that and you want to be part of that. I wanted to be part of that. I wanted to be part of this team and that is why we are here.”
Under the articulation agreement, TAMHSC School of Public Health and STC will launch an undergraduate program to help students earn a bachelor of science in public health. The agreement was signed by STC President Shirley Reed and Dr. Jay Maddock, dean of TAMHSC School of Public Health.
Before the articulation agreement was signed, Giroir had time to visit with Valley students at the A&M Health Science Center campus in McAllen. So impressed was he with the students that Giroir predicted they would not just become future leaders in healthcare but future leaders of the nation.
Giroir has been CEO of TAMHSC for about 18 months. He said he was a pediatric IC doctor by training. “So, naturally, prevention is key. I never want to see a child in my ICU that we could have prevented by many of the public health measures. When I came down both to Coastal Bend and here in McAllen I understood that we needed to be here. We were not only here but we were going to expand.”
Giroir then spoke about the Healthy South Texas 2025 initiative.
“Our largest initiative at the Health Science Center this year and the No. 1 for the A&M System, as iterated by Chancellor Sharp, is our Healthy South Texas initiative. I believe this absolutely passionately. This is what we should be doing, and it is what we can do and that initiative is to reduce the burden of preventable diseases, primarily in three areas, by 2025 by 25 percent, in a 20-county region of South Texas,” Giroir explained.
The three areas are diabetes, obesity and asthma.
“This is not quite a moonshot. It is difficult but it can be done,” Giroir said. “We want to do it not because it is rocket science but because it is not. It is about people partnering together, finding holistic solutions and opportunities, not just in education. It goes through agriculture, architecture, walking trails, holistic solutions. We want to be part of that.”
Giroir said that even before he and his team could kick off Healthy South Texas 2025, they had received a $2.4 million federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “They awarded six awards in the entire country to focus on nutrition and diabetes and this campus with Olga and her team, the faculty and their teams, together with AgriLife, won a $2.4 million federal award. It is one of only six in the country to focus on this problem. We haven’t even started and we are already bringing in support to focus on these problems.”
Giroir said a key part of Healthy South Texas 2025 is not what the project achieves now but what it will do in the future. He said the articulation agreement is part of it.
“Working with South Texas College, we are going to sign the articulation agreement to start an undergraduate program in public health. We all know public health professionals work in hospitals, they work in public health departments but they are one of the most needed disciplines for the energy industry, for the information technology industry in ergonomics, in environmental health, in safety. They are ubiquitous and they are one of the most sought after fields of training,” Giroir said.
“Public Health also sets you up perfectly to go to nursing school, medical school; dental school, any of the health professions. Throughout the country this is one of the top new degrees for under graduates. At many universities it is the No. 1 degree and we are going to start it and we are going to start it here.”
Giroir finished his remarks by predicting that students on the A&M/STC program will help sustain public health in the Valley going forward. “We are going to change health, we are going to transform health, we are going to improve the health of this community and throughout Texas and a key part of that, the cornerstone of that is training our future leaders,” he said.