Good evening everyone. It is really good to be here and thank you, Dr. Cardenas, for such a warm welcome and nice introduction.

I really appreciate the opportunity of being able to speak to you here this evening and to share my perspectives on this rapidly expanding partnership between DHR Health and the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley. 

There is no question that this evolving alignment between our institutions has been and will continue to be transformational for healthcare in the Valley, now and into the future. 

Dr. John H. Krouse

Now, as Carlos said, I have only been here in the Valley a short time, about a year and a half, and I have to admit that when I was recruited for the position of dean of the medical school, as someone who really spent almost all of my life in the northeast, I asked myself, now where exactly is the Rio Grande Valley? 

Like many people I simply was not familiar with the area and the people and the culture that’s here. But what I learned very quickly was how welcoming everyone is. How warm the people are. And how rapidly you feel yourself as part of this thriving community. 

But, even more, I wasn’t aware of how DHR Health over 20 years have built a remarkable infrastructure to care for the needs of patients here in the Valley. So, I want to applaud DHR for all it has accomplished for the benefits of the patients and the entire community. 

As I was preparing my remarks and reflecting on how much we have accomplished together in a short time since the School of Medicine has opened, I have realized how much our two institutions share in common. By far, the most significant and compelling similarity is that UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine and DHR Health share a common passion and that passion is to serve our community and to continue providing accessible, high quality, innovative healthcare to our patients across the Rio Grande Valley, from Starr County to South Padre Island. 

Historically, it was that passion and sense of caring that led eight local physicians to begin the development of a world-class healthcare enterprise 20 years ago to meet the needs of this community. DHR Health has been growing rapidly in size, scope and stature over those two decades from a small ambulatory surgery center to a comprehensive healthcare system that offers more than 70 specialities and subspecialties across the Valley. 

Through its ongoing and sustained investment in the community, DHR Health has led the Valley in healthcare innovation, allowing steadily increasing numbers of patients to remain here in the Valley, to receive comprehensive treatment for a wide-range of medical and surgical needs.

And it was that same passion that led to the creation of a comprehensive research university in 2013 as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley combined the strengths and assets of two legacy schools into an educational system that leveraged these assets across the entire region. 

With the vision of our community, the support of many here at DHR Health, our elected officials and the leadership of the University of Texas System, and with the guidance of our founding president, Dr. Guy Bailey, UTRGV has established a new medical school, one of the first in the State of Texas to be developed as a component of an academic university. The medical school was the culmination of an effort that began in this community more than 70 years ago and with the passage of Senate Bill 24 in 2013, the UTRGV School of Medicine became a reality. 

That same passion for the community has been demonstrated through the growing educational, clinical and research enterprises that are steadily being built by the UTRGV School of Medicine, through the dedicated work of its 170 faculty members and 200 staff and administrators. We are proud to be training physicians who are committed to serving patients throughout the Valley, to expanding access to care for these patients and to advancing biomedical research into diseases that affect so many in the Rio Grande Valley and beyond.

Today we are preparing 169 new physicians in ten residency programs, most of whom are receiving their training and clinical education right here through DHR Health. This is significant for the community because 64 percent of that last graduating class have chosen to stay here in the Rio Grande Valley to deliver quality care to patients and teach other young physicians. 

We continue to work together with DHR in growing additional residencies and fellowships to address these local workforce needs. The School of Medicine also has 155 medical students with about 50 of those in their third year of study, many of whom rotate here at DHR and learn from the skilled physicians and surgeons that practice here. 

In the coming years, UTRGV, through its health affairs division will also be building additional educational and professional degree programs in a number of areas critical to the Valley’s ongoing healthcare needs. Through its clinical practice, UT Health RGV, the School of Medicine, is helping to expand care to many individuals who otherwise often would have limited ability to obtain necessary treatment.

UT Health RGV has brought subspecialty physicians to the Valley in a variety of areas, many of whom work hand in hand with DHR physicians and practice here at DHR Health. UT Health RGV has established rural sites in Starr, Hidalgo and Cameron counties and works closely with county health departments and agencies to increase access to needed medical services. 

We will continue to expand these services not only for UTRGV’s employees and students but to those seeking care in the Valley who otherwise might need to go to San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Dallas or Houston for their care. It is our goal, along with DHR Health, for those patients to remain here in the Valley for their care. 

So, we work collaboratively with DHR Health to expand the types of services patients need. Some of these areas include trauma surgery, pediatric subspecialties, maternity care and women’s health, and as well we work closely together in our four residency clinics here on this campus. Our goal is to build together an ever strengthening network of physicians and services to care for all of the Valley’s residents, especially in important areas such as trauma, cancer care and pediatrics. 

This growth is already underway through a number of joint clinical recruitments we have and continue to make with DHR Health. We hire pediatric sub-specialists in neurology, genetics, developmental and behavioral health. We’ve continued to develop a trauma program through the recruitment and hire of fellowship trained trauma surgeons, establishing a higher level of trauma care and leading together with DHR to the launch of a Level 1 Trauma Center here in the Valley. 

Cancer Center

We are also in discussion with DHR Health and others to create a comprehensive cancer center here in the Valley, growing clinical care and research in this much needed area. Our collaboration with DHR Health is vital in fulfilling our mutual promise to the community, to provide excellent healthcare to all, close to home.

In addition to our clinical focus, the UTRGV School of Medicine is also committed to establishing world class cutting edge research here in the Rio Grande Valley. One example of our success is our South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute located in Brownsville which engages in research related to diabetes, obesity and related illnesses that address the most critical public health needs in this region. This program has received over $30 million in NRH funding and its 50 faculty and post-doctoral researchers have established the largest genomics computing corps in the world focused on diabetes. 

We will be announcing next month the hire of a cancer immunology team, researchers who will be housed in our new biomedical research building just on the south side of Dove Road from this location. This research program, funded in part by the City of McAllen, will bring a core of faculty and post-doctoral staff that will work on advancing knowledge in cancer immunology, an area of rapid growth in treatment opportunities for patients with cancer. 

We are also hiring a director for our Institute of Neurosciences, a program funded through a grant from the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation that will be located in Harlingen. And, this year ahead, we plan to continue to grow our funded research into Alzheimer’s Disease and to leverage this research to improve our understanding of both healthy aging and cognitive disease among older adults. We look forward to exploring opportunities for research, clinical trials and other endeavors with DHR Health to advance the development of medications and other innovative treatments for our patients. 

Academic Health System

Though DHR Health and the UTRGV’s School of Medicine have accomplished a huge amount individually, it is when these two entities join together that the Valley can benefit from the synergism and energy that that partnership can bring. Together our two institutions have the potential to elevate not only the quality of, and access to, care but to grow the stature of the Rio Grande Valley to become a nationwide leader in healthcare innovation and care delivery.

So, it is our vision at the UTRGV School of Medicine to come together with our colleagues at DHR Health to form the Valley’s first academic health system. An academic health system is not only the 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. This is certainly my hope for our growing partnership and what I believe is your vision as well.

We have the opportunity to be at the forefront of developing centers of excellence for decreasing and hopefully eliminating healthcare disparities among our Hispanic population and for bringing together partnerships to provide innovative research and treatment for patients with cancer, diabetes, and many other common chronic illnesses. 

Together, through a true academic health system, we can accelerate the timeline for bringing services closer to home for our patients and take the next steps for creating a true academic medical center that delivers outstanding care here in the Rio Grande Valley. 

As I opened my remarks today I commented that I did not have any familiarity with the Rio Grande Valley prior to first visiting about two years ago. What I have learned in those two years is that this is an area with immense potential, with the warmest and most dedicated people that I have ever met and with a leadership group committed to the health of each and every citizen. 

I have learned that the Valley is fortunate to have such an outstanding health enterprise as DHR Health, built by Valley residents, for Valley residents and second to none in the quality of its physicians and services. I have learned that we share a common vision to grow our impact and scope as DHR Health and UTRGV continue to evolve the delivery of healthcare in the Rio Grande Valley. 

As we continue to work together we will seek new opportunities for collaboration and cooperation. We will build systems together and look for ways to truly establish together an academic health system in the Rio Grande Valley. That will be truly transformational for the Valley and its citizens. 

So, I again thank you for inviting me here this evening and I look forward to our continued collaborations with our colleagues at DHR Health. 

Editor’s Note: The above guest column is based on a speech Dr. John Krouse, dean of the UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, gave at DHR Health’s 2018 State of the Hospital Address at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance on Dec. 20. The ‘Dr. Cardenas’ Krouse referenced is Dr. Carlos Cardenas, chairman and chief administrative officer for DHR Health. 

Editor’s Note: The above guest column is the first in a series of articles the Rio Grande Guardian will be publishing in the coming days based on speeches given at DHR Health’s 2018 State of the Hospital Address.