LAREDO, RGV – For the first time in 14 years, public health officials from Mexico will speak at the Border Health Caucus’ annual conference.

The conference, now in its 14th year, takes place at La Posada in Laredo on Thursday, Aug. 22, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The speakers from Mexico include Dr. Omar Nelson Gonzalez Cepeda, a public health official from Reynosa, and Dr. Oscar Gerardo Gonzalez Arrambide, a public health officer from Nuevo Laredo.

Dr. Luis Benavides, MD., president of the Border Health Caucus.

“We are delighted to have, for the first time, healthcare speakers from Mexico at our conference,” said Dr. Luis Benavides, MD, chair of the Border Health Caucus.

“Some of the things we will be looking at during the conference include what is happening on the other side of the  border. So, we will be looking to see how we can join together as neighbors and resolve some of these issues that we are seeing and they are seeing as well.”

Asked for an example of a common issue on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, Benavides said: “Vector control and vector transmitted illnesses. Binational participation, especially when it comes to public health, is a step in the right direction.”

The Border Health Caucus (BHC) is a component of the Texas Medical Association, the largest doctors’ group in the country. The caucus rose to prominence at the turn of the century when the group led the fight for medical malpractice reform. 

BHC used to hold its annual conferences in Washington, D.C., so that border physicians could influence healthcare policy makers and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. In recent years, however, the venue has alternated between Washington and the border. When the conference is held on the border the venue rotates between El Paso, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley.

Benavides said a new issue for BHC is the surge in migrants crossing into the United States from Mexico. Many of them come from Central America in search of asylum. Benavides said the healthcare implications of migrants congregating at the border will be addressed at the conference.

“This year we have the issue of the immigrants, which has been there in the past but not to the extent that we have now. We are having a lot of changes with policy at the national level and so we want to see what we can do to improve the health of those who are staying here and those that are being sent back,” Benavides said.

“We have to communicate our message effectively. We have to take care of our population regardless of which side of the border they are on.”

Asked to expand upon the issue, Benavides said:

“The immigrants are coming and we have to see if we can keep them in an area where we can help them with health and not get any diseases transmitted into the United States, if they are carrying any diseases.”

Benavides said that from his experience, most migrants coming from Mexico are immunized against communicable diseases. He said he is not so sure about those coming from countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

“A lot of those in Mexico are getting excellent immunizations. Normally, it is just a case of checking with them. For those that are coming from further south, we need to check the record keeping and look at them a little bit closer and decide if they do need immunizations. Then, of course, we run into the problem of financing those vaccinations. All of these are issues, we need to look into.”

Asked the workload of border physicians is becoming greater due to the surge in migrants, Benavides said:

“Much of the (healthcare) work is being done by the federal government. We know the government could probably use some help and so we are looking at trying to establish some kind of communication or program where local physicians on the border can more effectively help by taking care of those immigrant populations.”

Asked if border physicians want to help, Benavides said:

“Yes, they do. There are some good things happening in El Paso and in some of the smaller communities along the border but it is not a coordinated effort. That is what we would like to have set up. So, we have started the dialogue (with the federal govenment). I don’t think this problem is going to go away so I think it is a longtime issue. The sooner we get to work on this, the better off we are going to be.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows an announcement about the 14th Annual Border Health Conference held at Laredo City Hall. Pictured from left to right are: Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz, Laredo Public Health Director Dr. Hector Gonzalez, Border Health Caucus Chairman Dr. Luis Benavides, and Oscar Gerardo Gonzalez Arrambide of Nuevo Laredo.


Here is the provisional agenda for the 14th Annual Border Health Conference:

8:30am   Opening Remarks: 

Linda Villareal, MD, Master of Ceremonies

Luis Benavides, MD, Chair, Border Health Caucus

Luis Urea, MD, Vice-Chair, Border Health Caucus

David Fleeger, MD, President, Texas Medical Association

The Honorable Pete Saenz, Mayor, City of Laredo

The Honorable Henry Cuellar (Texas House District 28)

9:00am   Panel #1 Access to Care

Evelyn Delgado, President, Healthy Futures Texas

Gilbert Handal, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center-El Paso

Rebecca Sorensen, MPH, Director, Office of Women’s Preventative Care, HHSC

John Hawkins, VP of Advocacy & Public Policy, Texas Hospital Association

10:30am  Panel #2: Public Health on the Border

Joseph McCormick, MD, Regional Dean, University of Texas School of Public Health

Maria Jose Reyes, MD, Infectious Disease Specialist, Queretaro

Kathy Lenhard, President, PanAm Clinical Research

Robert Resendes, MBA, MT (ASCP), Director, City of El Paso Health Department

12:00pm  Lunch Break                                 

12:30pm  Panel #3:Cross Border Health Care Issues

Eddie Olivarez, Chief Admin Officer, Hidalgo County Health and Human Services

Dr. Omar Nelson Gonzalez Cepeda, Jefe de la Jurisdiccion IV de Reynosa

Dr. Hector Gonzalez, Director, City of Laredo Health Department

Dr. Oscar Gerardo Gonzalez Arrambide, Jefe de la Jurisdiccion V de Nuevo Laredo

2:00pm    Closing Remarks                     

Doug Curran, MD, Immediate Past President, Texas Medical Association