EDINBURG, RGV – In addition to voting for the next president of the United States on November 8, citizens in Hidalgo County will also get to choose whether to create a health services district.
As expected, the required number of Hidalgo County residents have filed a petition with Hidalgo County Commissioners Court to have an election to create a Hidalgo County Healthcare Services District, which will have taxing authority.
An election was expected after hospitals in the county commissioned a private opinion poll that found strong support for such an entity. Voters narrowly rejected a similar measure in November 2014. Supporters believe they have a much better chance in a presidential election year, when turnout is much higher.
State Law requires a Commissioners Court to order the election if a petition is signed by at least 50 registered voters. The petition submitted included 168 signatures by Hidalgo County residents.
Supporters of a healthcare district say such an institution will help expand access to healthcare services for the residents of Hidalgo County; provide financial support for the School of Medicine at UT-Rio Grande Valley; train physicians, nurses, and medical professionals; obtain federal and state matching funds for increasing access to care; and increase access to community clinics, primary care services, behavioral and mental health services, and prevention and wellness programs.
Healthy Hidalgo County Political Action Committee issued a news release Monday with comments from five community leaders supporting the healthcare district. The campaign manager for the PAC is Josh Reyna. Reyna previously ran the primary election campaign of Vicente Gonzalez, the Democratic candidate for the 15th Congressional District of Texas.
Among the five community leaders listed in the news release is the Rev. Jerry Frank of St. John the Baptist Church in San Juan. Last week, Frank told the Rio Grande Guardian that pastors from a number of Catholic churches in Hidalgo County agreed to support the healthcare district after receiving assurances from chief executives at local hospitals that 20 percent of all monies raised by the healthcare district will go to federally qualified and non-profit clinics that give aid to the poor. Frank said the pastors will now hold workshops in their parishes to educate parishioners on the issue.
Here are the comments of the five supporters listed in the HHC PAC news release:
Rev. Jerry Frank with the RGV Equal Voice Network:
“Healthcare is a basic human right. Unfortunately, the neediest in our community don’t have access to adequate care. And for many others seeking care, whether they are insured or uninsured, costly travel to San Antonio or Houston to get the care they need is too common a story. I am proud to support the creation of our own Healthcare District to expand access to quality care here at home for our families, neighbors, and friends.”
Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia:
“Diabetes is a preventable disease that disproportionately affects our residents in Hidalgo County. We all have family or friends with diabetes and more and more of our children are being diagnosed. I am particularly proud to know that a Healthcare District will support our medical school in combating our diabetes epidemic by conducting groundbreaking clinical research for new treatments and cures. By creating a Healthcare District to improve access to care and finding new cures, I am confident our best days can be ahead of us.”
Dr. Bambi Cardenas, former University President of UT-Pan American:
“Hidalgo County has a critical shortage of doctors and medical specialists. But our community took a giant leap forward with the creation of the first medical school here in the Rio Grande Valley. We must continue that momentum forward with a Healthcare District to support our new medical school in educating and training up to 300 new doctors and medical students every year. This isn’t just an investment in our medical school, it’s an investment in our health and our children’s health by ensuring care will be here in the future.”
Robert C. “Bob” Vackar, CEO of the Bert Ogden Auto Group:
“The economic benefits of a Healthcare District will be transformational. Just look at how San Antonio transformed a few tracts of farmland into a multi-billion-dollar economic engine. When San Antonio created their district and medical school, their community and leaders had vision; I am asking our community and leaders to have the same. A Hidalgo County Healthcare District will support the Medical School and help create thousands of high-paying jobs in the Rio Grande Valley, as well as generate millions in new economic activity. Let’s create jobs and move our community forward together by voting for our own Healthcare District. This is the next major step in our Rio Grande Valley’s future!”
Former Mayor of Mission Ricardo A. Perez:
“I fully support the creation of a Healthcare District here in Hidalgo County. There is a lot of misinformation and distortion being said about the Healthcare District. But the truth is, the Hidalgo County Healthcare District statute provides some of the best protections and accountability to taxpayers. If approved by the voters, the Healthcare District would have the lowest tax rate cap of any healthcare district in Texas. Other protections include a mandatory roll-back election limiting future tax increases, and affording all the property homestead exemptions allowed by current law to property owners. And since the District will take over county health care programs, Hidalgo County will be required to reduce property taxes. I urge all voters to support this critical investment in our community and learn more about the strong protections for us taxpayers.”
The most high-profile opponent of a healthcare district in Hidalgo County is Mission Mayor Norberto ‘Beto’ Salinas (pictured above). Salinas told the Rio Grande Guardian that he is mobilizing opposition.
“We’ve been working with our group. I have been having some meetings with the real estate people. They are completely in support of helping us defeat the measure,” Salinas.
Asked why he was so strongly opposed to a healthcare district, Salinas said: “We do not need any more taxes. If this district is set up, we are committing to it forever. It is not like when you sell a bond for $100 million and you get through paying for it. This is forever. Taxes are going to go up. Healthcare is always going to get very expensive. It is not fair. The State of Texas said we are only responsible for ten percent of the cost of indigent healthcare. Now, Ramon Garcia wants us to take care of indigent healthcare 100 percent. We cannot let them get there.”
Ramon Garcia is county judge for Hidalgo County.
Salinas said McAllen realtor Felipe Cavazos is going to help raise funds in opposition to a healthcare district. Salinas said he met realtors at Betty Garza’s La Mansion Real Estate’s office in McAllen.
The Prosperity Hidalgo Political Action Committee has been formed to raise funds to oppose a Hidalgo County Health Services District.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows the Rev. Jerry Frank of RGV Equal Voice Network. Reporter Steve Taylor contributed to this story from Mission, Texas. Click here to read the case for and against a Hidalgo County Health Services District.