WESLACO, RGV – Gaps in access to secondary healthcare in the Rio Grande Valley will be the focus at RGV Equal Voice Network’s Rio Grande Valley Health Summit.

The summit takes place at Knapp Conference Center in Weslaco on Dec. 12.

To prepare for the summit, the RGV Equal Voice Network’s health working group conducted a survey of Federally Qualified Health Centers and other safety net clinics in the Valley. These surveys interacted with 603 patients. The group also conducted 13 focus groups throughout the Valley, conducted in English and Spanish. The information collected forms the basis of a White Paper that will be presented at the summit.

The RGV Equal Voice Network’s health working group held a meeting in Weslaco late last month to prepare for the 2019 RGV Health Summit.

The Federally Qualified Health Centers and other safety net clinics in the Valley reported:

  • There was general agreement that a lack of of secondary care present a significant challenge to patients;
  • One respondent reported that 25-30 percent of the patients were estimated to stop medical care due to the patient ceasing to pursue secondary care. Another clinic reported 60-70 percent of their patients making the same choice;
  • One responded reported that put 15,000 referrals in the first quarter of 2018, an estimated 80-90 percent of those appointments were cancelled due to the patients’ lack of funds or inability to access funds to begin the specialty care procedure or care;
  • Another respondent found that 45 percent of its patients were unable to access secondary care in 2017. The lack of coordinated partnership or collaboration between the safety net clinics and the hospitals, specialists, and medical school was reference by respondents as a cause of lack of access.

The White Paper lists the reason patients did not pursue secondary care. They include:

  • Unaffordable costs, often ranging from $200-$300 for initial payments, required by specialists or secondary care providers;
  • Even the cost of a diagnosis may often be out of reach for patients, resulting in the patient foregoing further and indefinite assessment of their condition;
  • Limited or lack of insurance coverage;
  • Secondary care providers not accepting marketplace insurance plans;
  • Denial by secondary care providers due to low reimbursement rates;
  • Refusal of secondary care providers to accept referrals from the county indigent programs;
  • The safety net clinics have no funds to pay for the specialty care;
  • Lack of providers willing to treat an uninsured patient.

The White Paper found that there is a “dearth of resources for our medically underserved population to access secondary care recommended by primary care.”

Salomon Torres, a member of the RGV Equal Voice Network’s health working group, said: “We are very confident in the reliability of this sample of data that was collected through both the surveys and through the focus groups.”

Ann Cass, chair of the RGV Equal Voice Network’s health working group, said the data shows that the very low and low income population and the working poor are not accessing secondary care because they do not have the funds. She pointed out that Hidalgo County alone has 300,000 people without health insurance.

“We know that they have been having BBQs in order to pay for cancer treatments. People are dying because they cannot get into the specialty care that they need,” Cass said. “That is what we heard and that is what we verified.”

Cass added: “The White Paper is going to be showing a lot of recommendations that we can make to get rid of those gaps.”

The above podcast features the analysis of Cass and Torres.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Ann Cass and Salomon Torres of the RGV Equal Voice Network health working group.

Editor’s Note: The above news story is the first in a two-part series previewing the RGV Health Summit that takes place at the Knapp Conference Center in Weslaco on Dec. 12, 2019.