MCALLEN, RGV – The directors, staff and supporters of El Milagro Clinic recently celebrated the nonprofit’s 23rd anniversary, an event where its founder, Ron Tupper, was named chairman emeritus.

The clinic, located on Vermont Avenue in south McAllen, caters for the economically disadvantaged and uninsured.

At the event, board chairman Roberto M. Garcia said additional services are planned.

“We want to expand the services Ron started years ago, to cover other areas of need for those that are uninsured or can’t pay for services,” Garcia said.

Also at the event, Dr. Robert Gonzalez, El Milagro’s medical director, pointed out that the clinic fell on hard times a few years ago. However, it has fully recovered and now boasts a staff of 30 professionals and a budget of more than $1.3 million.

“I have been here 17 years and in those 17 years I have seen the clinic go through a transformation. It has had its ups and downs. I do not know if any of you really know how close this clinic came to shutting down a coupe of years ago,” Gonzalez said.

“Things looked bleak but, thank God, the employees persevered, the people that wanted to keep this clinic open and available to the people that need medial care (made sure it did). I would like to thank Mr. Ron Tupper, the board members, the previous board members, for all their time and effort in helping shape what this clinic is today.”

El Milagro currently serves approximately 15,000 patients.

As the main speaker at the anniversary celebration, Chairman Garcia spoke about how the clinic came about, giving praise to Tupper for his perseverance and vision.

Presenting Tupper with a plaque, Garcia said it was “a well-bestowed honor for a man that was instrumental in the formation of the clinic.”

Garcia also thanked the staff and his fellow board directors. Staff with a long record of service were presented with an award. They included:

Blanca Cantu, for ten years of service; Marisol Resendez, the clinic’s executive director, for 14 years of service; medical director Gonzalez, for 17 years; Javier Muñoz, for 16 years of service; Marta Mendoza, for 22 years of service; and Petra Treviño, who has worked at the clinic from the day it opened.

Garcia said El Milagro has “fantastic staff.” He said the fact that so many of them have worked their for many years “indicates this is a good place to work and they like to work here. When people like to work somewhere they do good work.”

History of El Milagro

Looking back to the beginning, Garcia noted that the clinic was built from scratch, with no buildings on the three and a half acres donated by the City of McAllen.

“Although McAllen is a large city and a wealthy city, there was no public clinic. The medical community thought it was adequately addressing the medical needs of the poor and the uninsured. Fortunately, our honoree and some local doctors saw things differently,” Garcia said.

“Because of their vision and unrelenting efforts and hard work, they established the blueprint for what is now this clinic. Our honoree took the bull by the horns and incorporated the clinic as a legal entity and he was the sole incorporator. He worked diligently and hard with Hidalgo County and the City of McAllen and others to develop a plan of action for a joint city-county project.”

Garcia said Tupper was “very instrumental” in presenting a successful bond issue.

“He became the board chair with the first task to get the facility built with the limited funds available. He helped design this building – so he is an architect too. And he served as the construction manager during the time that the building was being built at no cost to the City of McAllen.”

Even more impressive, Garcia said, is that Tupper took out a personal line of credit to hire staff and a doctor for the new facility.

“Not many people are going to put their name on a loan on their own. But, he did it and that is pretty big in anybody’s book. He negotiated a 25-year lease with the city and the county for the building. Once it was completed and he continued to support the clinic in many ways from then until the present.”

Today, Tupper is a senior consultant and director of grants and foundation programs for Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. He is also executive director of Renaissance Cares Foundation, Inc., and project director of the Veterans Health Fair in Hidalgo County.

Tupper recently attend an El Milagro board of directors meeting. Garcia said he was pleased Tupper agreed to serve on some of the clinic’s committees.

Additional Services

Garcia also thanked El Milagro’s current funders. These include Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, the Texas Department Health & Human Services, the Hidalgo County Urban County Program in precincts two and four, the City of McAllen Development Corporation, the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation, the Knapp Community Care Foundation, and, most recently, the Raul Tijerina Foundation.

“From not having anything we now have all these funders that have provided us with grants and and opportunity to help this clinic grow and serve the community. As you know, without money you do not do anything. Fortunately, they are there and they have been with us for a long time,” Garcia said.

“We expect to add to this list of funders because among the board members, we have been talking about an expansion of services.”

Garcia also ran through the some of the healthcare specialists El Milagro currently has, contrasting today’s situation with the skeleton team Tupper started out with.

“We have a staff now. Back then, I think it was a couple of people and yourself. That is the way it started,” Garcia said. Today we have a staff of 30. We have three in administration, we have four medical providers, we have on licensed vocational nurse, four medical assistants, on patient services coordinator, one prescription assistance program specialist, two eligibility specialists, one social services, two registered dietitians, two behavioral health counselors, one outreach and promotion coordinator, one wellness center coordinator, three receptionists, two dance instructors, two maintenance personnel.”

As for the building, El Milagro is now at 20,000 square feet.

“Ron, that is much bigger than when you started, right?” Garcia quipped.

“We have a wellness center of 25,000 square feet which was funded by Methodist Health Ministries. In terms of what we have in the building, we have 21 offices, eight exam rooms, three vitalizing rooms, three lobbies, two reception and dismissal areas, one conference room, one training room for workshops and presentations, and two kitchen lunchroom areas.”

Garcia said El Milagro’s budget is now “$1.3 million and growing.” As for patients served, Garcia said: “We do about 15,000 patient visits a year now. So, we are serving quite a large part of the community. That is a lot compared to 23 years ago. It is like day and night.”

Garcia concluded his remarks with another tribute to Tupper, which received loud applause from the audience.

“The board decided it would be fitting and necessary to bestow a public recognition on our honoree, Mr. Ron Tupper. Mr. Tupper is recognized by the board for his vision, his courage, his hard work, and continued dedication to the creation of El Milagro Clinic. The board unanimously voted and approved to honor Mr. Tupper with the most prestigious of non profit awards, and that recognition is Chairman Emeritus.”

Tupper’s remarks

Accepting his plaque, Tupper said:

“It is a big, big, honor to be recognized for this kind of work. So many familiar faces here. I am impressed about several things. One of them is the longevity of the employees here. Absolutely amazing. Obviously, the board structure is excellent. It is what is required to keep these things going. Remember, we are treating the poorest of the poor. That is kind of a forgotten population in some places, but not here. A lot of the patients that now come here used to go to the emergency room. And there was no continuity of care at all. You have got a great administration, a great executive director, and Dr. Martinez is somebody we should all be proud of. For 17 years he has provided services to people who did not have that big, thick, medical record that most doctors look for.”

When he referenced Dr. Martinez, Tupper misspoke. He meant to say Dr. Gonzalez, the medical director.

Tupper said he was impressed with those that have been here a long time.

“Marta and Petra and many others. That is what makes the thing work. Continuity through the management and the board and the doctors. You cannot do that without a staff. The turnover in a lot of organizations is very high and over the years the one thing that registers with me is, this is a very stable environment. That speaks to people that love what they do and enjoy coming in every day,” Tupper said.

Looking back to the early days, Tupper pointed out that when the idea for a clinic was hatched the land it currently sits on was undeveloped.

“This was a piece of ground that was allowed to us by the city. They basically put up about three and a half acres. The problem was we had such a limited amount of dollars because we had a bond issue but we did not have any operational funds. I basically took the job on of being the construction manager, working with the contractor to get that done,” Tupper said.

“I basically sat down and designed the building on my kitchen table with three small kids at home wanting me to pay attention to them. They are all grown now and on with their own lives.”

Tupper noted that there was negativity from some quarters to having a health clinic established to help the poor and uninsured.

“The reality was there was a little bit of pushback on something like this. At the same time it has turned out to be a very favorable project, not just with the faith-based community but others involved. We had some key politicians that were involved. Key senators. When it all came down to it, it was one of the situations where it just had to happen. There is a certain inevitable aspect to positive projects,” Tupper said.

“We all know from the economic development side of things, some of these things are not popular in the beginning because you are changing the way people think. But, when you see the results, obviously the results are quite amazing.”

As for the building itself, Tupper said he was struck by the fact that it has not had to be redesigned over the years.

“I looked all over the state to figure out a design that was functional and that put the patient first. A patient-centric structure is really what you need,” he said.

Tupper concluded his remarks by saying: “I can tell you that a city-county project of this nature was just a phenomenal thing to happen. It should have happened and it has. And I am going to do everything I can to work with the board to make sure that it continues.”

After Tupper said he appreciated the honor being bestowed by the El Milagro board of directors, Chairman Garcia responded: “This honor is well deserved. Our citizens owe you a huge debt of gratitude for what you have done throughout your career to bring basic medical services to the members of our community who would not otherwise be able to afford it. We thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

Dr. Gonzalez’s wish

Dr. Gonzalez, El Milagro’s medical director, also spoke at the anniversary. Referencing his 17 years of service at the clinic, Gonzalez said his wife has often said that he could likely make more money if he spent more time at his personal practice.

“That is probably true but the thing is I was born and raised in McAllen. I was a migrant worker back in the day and my mother raised all eight of us to be hardworking, to get educated, and to learn to speak English and Spanish correctly, as much as possible,” Gonzalez said.

“I have the best interests at heart for the city of McAllen and the other communities that surround Mcallen. I feel that we need to be here, we need to help people that come into this country, people that are born here that do not have the financial means to have insurance to be able to see doctors.”

Gonzalez said he had one overriding wish for El Milagro – more money.

“To be able to have some financial support to be able to send our patients to oncologists, to surgeons, neurosurgeons, cardiologists because it is very expensive when you do not have insurance and you have to pay $300, $400, for an initial office visit. You pretty much are closing the door on the hopes of some of these patients. That is the only thing I would like for us to be able to do.”

Following the remarks of Garcia, Tupper, Gonzalez and others, those in attendance celebrated El Milagro’s 23rd Anniversary with a lunch provided by Tony Roma in McAllen. Franchisee Rick Guerra is a board member of El Milagro.