SAN JUAN, RGV – The Rev. Jerry Frank has asked if Rio Grande Valley media outlets can spread the word – the Hidalgo County healthcare district workshops currently being hosted by some Catholic parishes are only for parishioners.

So far, four such workshops have been held. There will be a further eight before the month is out. Rev. Frank said the first few workshops were “gatecrashed” by members of the Tea Party and the OWLS watchdog group. He said they should not have shown up.

“These workshops are exclusively for parishioners in those parishes where he held a petition drive about the healthcare district. We want to report back to parishioners on the impact of the petition drive. It was very successful,” Rev. Frank said.

“As a result of the power of that petition, which was signed by tens of hundreds of people, we have been able to work out an agreement between the grassroots people, the parishioners, and all the hospital executives. So much so that we have now reached common ground. We are working together to pass this thing. We think we will be able to influence how the healthcare district operates. We feel we got what we wanted from the hospitals.”

Asked what, specifically, the petition has achieved, Rev. Frank said: “First, we have a commitment from the hospitals in Hidalgo County that 20 percent of the funds from the hospital district go to the 12 non-profit and federally-qualified clinics that look after the indigent poor. That is a big deal. But it is not only that. Fifty percent is going to go indigent health, to doctors and hospitals who serve the indigent. You are talking about 70 percent off the top going to indigent healthcare.”

Rev. Frank continued: “Another 20 percent goes to the new school, UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. But, where are the future doctors in this school going to get their training? In the clinics that serve the indigent. So, you see, all of this is rebounding back to the poor. It is a great thing for Hidalgo County. That is why we are for it. The remaining ten percent will be for administration and personnel and operations.”

Rev. Frank acknowledged that the Tea Party/OWLS members that have attended the early workshops have succeeded in making a lot of noise.

“They show up with their signs and demand to speak. They record everything and afterwards it is all over Facebook. You know how they are. If you give them an inch they take a mile,” Rev. Frank said. “Why do they have to crash our meetings? Why don’t they create their own forums and do their own work to get out their campaign, instead of crashing our program to try to disrupt what we are doing? It is the same people over and over again.”

Rev. Frank said he has worked out a way of minimizing the disruption. He said he asks that no cameras or audio recorders be admitted. He also asks that parishioners sit at the front of the room and the outsiders at the back. This way he can make sure only parishioners get to ask questions. “We had one guy go berserk, the other night, but other than that it was okay. It took me two sessions to figure out how to handle them.”

Rev. Frank said he conducted a “great and constructive” workshop in Pharr earlier in the week. “Unfortunately, the local paper focused on one particular incident, rather than the whole story. But the workshop itself was excellent. The mayor of Pharr, Ambrosio Hernandez, was wonderful. He has a great perspective on this, being a doctor, that we needed to hear. He added a great dimension to it.”

Rev. Frank said the Tea Party/OWLS have “already intimidated one priest.” Asked to explain, he said: “They showed up at a meeting in the Delta whose date had already been changed, carrying their signs and all that stuff. When the priest saw them he cancelled out. Victory to them on that occasion.”

Rev. Frank said the Catholic parish workshops are very illuminating. He said after two or three presentations, parishioners are given an opportunity to ask questions or provide a commentary on their experience of healthcare delivery. At the end of the meetings, Rev. Frank tells parishioners how they can get involved in a Get Out of the Vote effort.

Rev. Frank said the plan is hold all the workshops in September and then devote October to a major Get Out the Vote effort. He said the workshops are helpful in this regards because he is developing a group of supporters in each parish that can go door to door to spread the word. “All of this hard work is geared to one objective, securing a “yes” vote on Proposition 1 in November.”

Proposition 1 gives voters the opportunity to set up a healthcare taxing district for Hidalgo County.

Meanwhile, political consultant Paul Vazaldua, who thus far has been an outspoken critic of the healthcare district proposal, has asked that an op-ed he penned be pulled from the Rio Grande Guardian.

“Many of my questions I have been asking have been answered,” Vazaldua said. “Currently, I am analyzing the effects of the tax rate. I intend to submit a new commentary on the matter as soon as next Monday.”