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HARLINGEN, RGV – State Senator Eddie Lucio says the unity displayed by the Rio Grande Valley’s legislative delegation, along with collaboration between the region’s public and private sectors, has led to improved healthcare for those most in need.

Lucio was present for last Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new UT-Rio Grande Valley community primary care clinic in Harlingen. The university opened a similar clinic in McAllen the day before. And, this week, Lucio is most happy to learn, the UTRGV School of Medicine, in collaboration with United Health Foundation, will unveil a new mobile health clinic to improve access to primary and preventive care for colonia residents.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.
State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.

“I think we are witnessing historic times in the Valley, something I have been waiting for these past 30 years,” Lucio told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio. “I feel we have established so much together, at the federal, state and local level, not only in the public sector but also the private sector. We have all come together to make a difference for those that are less fortunate in our community. I am extremely happy with these developments.”

Lucio added: “Primary care for any community is paramount. I think the more we can do with primary care, the less people have to show up to the emergency room. Primary care allows people to address small issues before they become big issues. I was one of ten kids and our local community clinic in Brownsville was so important to us. Now that we have a medical school, now that the Valley has the type of leadership it has in the medical profession, great things are going to happen.”

The UTRGV Community Primary Care Clinics were made possible by a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), to provide primary healthcare services to residents in underserved communities.

UTRGV’s College of Health Affairs and its School of Nursing will operate the clinics in Harlingen and McAllen four days a week, two days at each clinic. The Harlingen clinic is located at the Harlingen VA Outpatient Clinic, at 2106 Treasure Hills Boulevard. The McAllen clinic is located at Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Department’s facility at 300 E. Hackberry.

Dr. Michael Lehker
Dr. Michael Lehker

Michael Lehker, dean of the College of Health Affairs, said the purpose of the grant is to provide students in the nursing and other allied health disciplines the opportunity to get hands-on training, and to offer much-needed healthcare to underserved communities.

“This initiative is to open up primary care clinics to provide healthcare to individuals that otherwise do not have access. These particular health clinics are made possible through a federal grant that we received last year. Now, we are implementing all the features of the grant,” Lehker said.

“We currently have these two facilities, one in McAllen and one here in Harlingen. They are open to any Valley resident. We are hoping to open up several more in the next couple of years in order to have more coverage. We are trying to get some more funding, for mobile clinics and more clinics.”

UTRGV President Guy Bailey called the opening of the clinic a “big deal,” saying the clinics will enable the university and its partners to provide healthcare to underserved areas.

“These clinics will not only provide benefits to some of our neediest residents in Hidalgo and Cameron counties, they’ll also benefit our faculty and our students as they work alongside medical doctors,” Bailey said. “We’ll have the full range of healthcare professions. We are committed to our community, just as our community is committed to us.”

Dr. María I. Díaz, UTRGV associate professor of nursing and the project’s director, said she would like to see the program expand, including traveling to colonias throughout Hidalgo County to provide care in an inter-professional collaborative effort.

“It is so important that the patient must remain the focus in any situation, and inter-professional collaboration is a means to an end,” she said. “As the population continues to age, it becomes more complex, our technology becomes more complex, and our training also, so we need to be able to progress with them. We need to be more aware of all the roles and responsibilities of all of us involved in these care situations.”

UTRGV is one of more than 20 national institutions — including universities, health systems and community health centers — participating with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; HRSA; and the Nurse Education, Practice, Quality and Retention (NEPQR) Program grant to offer care through these Inter-Professional Collaborative Practice clinics.

Unimóvil Clinic

The unveiling of the new Unimóvil clinic fulfills a commitment made when UTRGV was being launched – namely that the university would have a meaningful presence in the Valley’s colonias and other underserved areas.

The new Unimóvil clinic will be officially unveiled at 10 a.m. on Thursday outside UTRGV’s new Medical Education Building in Edinburg. Dr. Francisco Fernandez, professor of psychiatry, neurology and neuroscience at the UTRGV School of Medicine, said the aim of Unimóvil is to provide health screening, education and improved access to dental and mental health services.

Fernandez is slated to be at the official unveiling, along with Dr. Havidán Rodriguez, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at UTRGV, and Don Langer, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Texas. Promotoras, who are trained and certified health care advocates in colonias, are also slated to attend.

The Unimóvil clinic has come about through a $2.88 million grant from United Health Foundation. Rodriguez said the plan is to take the mobile unit throughout the Valley to provide health screenings, education and promotion, health literacy and improved dental and mental health services.