EDINBURG, Texas – Hidalgo County’s health authority says he is speaking in a personal capacity when he calls for the prioritization of primary care clinics over more profitable lines of service in the health industry.

Dr. Ivan Melendez appeared on a webinar about COVID-19 hosted by Futuro RGV. Asked by moderator Felipe Salinas how the Rio Grande Valley can be better prepared for the next pandemic, Melendez said:

“This is my own personal observation, perhaps a little politically incorrect. You can tell I am not running for anything. I think that it is human nature to put the resources into those lines of service that are profitable. So, a heart transplant, a liver transplant, a kidney transplant, patient hospital stay, hospice, all these are profitable lines of service.”

Melendez said he is not immune from criticism for putting more profitable healthcare work ahead of providing help where it is most needed.

“I mean, I can’t remember the last time that I volunteered my services at a nonprofit primary care center. I am not going to throw a stone and not take some responsibility too. But, we’ve designed these lines of services that I believe have been prioritized by which is more profitable versus not.”

Melendez continued: “So, it is not infrequent when someone says, well, do we do a rehab or do we not and then look at the numbers. So, we need to shy away from that and say, we need to establish primary care resources.”

In his answer to Salinas’ question, Melendez then brought up the difficult task primary care supporters have had in getting a healthcare district established in Hidalgo County. 

“When we try to get a hospital district going it is always beat up. People just vote it down because, I am paying South Texas Community College, I’m paying the school, the municipality, county. People say, I’m not going to pay more taxes. Then the misperception, I think it is a misperception.. that, and if I do (vote for a healthcare district) and we get this money it is just going to go to the hospitals. And they are already the $1.5 billion people in town. Why should I vote to enrich them?” Melendez said.

“So, we need to find ways where we can ascertain that our tax dollars are not redirected to other parts of the country for those people to distribute to their investors. But they are placed here so we can staff primary care clinics.”

Melendez said he is hopeful that support for primary care clinics has increased during the coronavirus crisis. “One of the advantages of this pandemic is that it has created an awareness from our elected officials that we need to prioritize a little bit differently,” he said. 

While calling for the prioritizing of primary care in the Valley, Melendez said every resident has to take some degree of personal responsibility for their own health.

“You have some personal responsibility. You cannot be with your hand held out waiting for the government, whomever that is, to come and resolve your issues. We need to take responsibility by doing local stuff that can get us ready. Well, like what? Well, first and foremost you have to love your neighbors. You have to have love for your community. You have to respect each other, even if you disagree with somebody.”

Here is a podcast of the Future RGV webinar with Dr. Ivan Melendez:

The difficulties the Valley has faced with COVID-19 are the responsibility of everyone in the community, Melendez said.

“That is us. The doctors, the hospitals, our local legislative folk, and the community. We should have already been doing this and said, man, we really need this and the community should have said, I need to lose weight; man, I need to control my diabetes; man, I need to find a way to access healthcare. So, it is not the governor’s fault, it is not the president’s fault, it is our own personal responsibility.”

Melendez said he would like to see a greater sense of shared responsibility in the Valley, similar to how it is in other parts of the country.

“We need to raise an awareness that we are a community. If you go to Manhattan, or you go to the east side or the west side, or you go to San Francisco, they have a sense of community. They have a sense of, we are all here from different parts of the world, as we are here also, and we need to have a sense of community and work with each other.”

Another thing the Valley must do, Melendez said, is make sure everyone realizes that the region is as American as any other. He cited the lack of resources in another heavily Hispanic region – Puerto Rico. He pointed out that the island was decimated by Hurricane Maria a few years ago.

“Those poor folks were underfunded and underserved. They are just as American as you and I.”

Melendez then noted that the people of the Valley, by and large, do not look like the folks in Iowa, Indiana, New York or California.

“But, yet, we are just as American as they are. First and foremost we need to create awareness that the Rio Grande Valley is not some middle of nowhere, backhoe, country bumpkin place. We do liver transplants, we do kidney transplants. We are the Mecca for medical care south of San Antonio. We have more hospitals than anywhere else in South Texas. We have 1,500 physicians from all over the world, we have people from Ivy League schools. So, we are not unsophisticated. We are under-resourced. So, from a federal level understand that we are Americans and it is not because we are ignorant. It is not because we do not have the technology. It is understanding that we have been under-resourced.”

Editor’s Note: This news story and the attached podcast came about thanks to a webinar hosted by Futuro RGV. Dr. Ivan Melendez was the guest speaker. Click here to watch Futuro RGV’s video.

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