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EDINBURG, RGV – Just as the Rio Grande Valley is the front door to the United States it can also be the front door to scientific discovery, says Doctors Hospital at Renaissance Health System CEO Israel Rocha.

Rocha made this bold prediction at a news conference to announce a $200 million medical education and research complex that DHR is developing with UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine and the City of McAllen.

“I think today is a celebration of a lot of partnerships coming together. One of the beautiful things about medicine is that it does not work in a vacuum and it requires a lot of people to come to the table. I think this campus is an example of that new research table. And so Doctors Hospital at Renaissance has partnered with the City of McAllen and with the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley to bring a new form of medical research that has not been here in the Valley,” Rocha told the Guardian, in an interview following the news conference.

The new complex, Rocha said, will be known as Doctors Hospital at Renaissance South Campus. He said he was pleased to now have two cities – Edinburg and McAllen – in the DHR family and speculated that as the hospital grows it could have a third, Pharr. Jackson Road, to the east of the new medical education and research complex, is the boundary for Pharr and McAllen and Edinburg.

“The new campus will have top tier bench laboratories in order to do cutting-edge science. It will have genomics, it will have the ability to do stem cell research, to really pioneer new medical advancements that are being done all throughout the world but not the Rio Grande Valley,” Rocha said.

“We have always said the Rio Grande Valley wants to be a leader and today we are starting that new page in being a leader in medicine and hopefully a leader in finding a cure for diabetes because if there is one thing we should do it is solve that issue, not only for our community but to be able to turn a challenge into prosperity by being able to make sure the Rio Grande Valley has been known for having diabetes but curing diabetes.”

Asked if he really thought the Valley could become the “front door to scientific discovery”, as he said in his remarks at the news conference, Rocha said: “I really do mean it. I think the commitment and what we have been able to do with the support of my board of directors and all of the partners and shareholders and staff and faculty who comprise DHR has been outstanding. They have been there every step of the way.”

VIPs pose for a photo across the street from development of a new medical education and research complex in north McAllen on Dove Avenue/Owassa Road.
VIPs pose for a photo across the street from development of a new medical education and research complex in north McAllen on Dove Avenue/Owassa Road.

Rocha said DHR has new physicians joining the hospital from all over the world. “They are excited about what is happening here. I think my comment will become a reality and the great partnerships we have with the cities and the universities can make that an absolute possibility. For example, Lisa Treviño is one of our newest assets. She is our head of research and she joins us from the Baylor Genomics Institute and she is an example of the many scientists who are coming and who are in the process of transitioning to the Rio Grande Valley to help fill our wonderful research and medical institute across the street – DHR South.”

The 50-acre development lies across the street from Doctors Hospital at Renaissance on Dove Avenue/Owassa Road and is within the McAllen city limits. Thus, McAllen will finally achieve its goal of having a part of the UTRGV action. The City of McAllen purchased the 50 acres at a cost of $16 million. It is donating five acres to UTRGV with an option of a further five acres if UTRGV wishes to expand. The remainder of the land will be developed by DHR.

In his remarks at the news conference, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said the City of McAllen is providing $5.4 million in financial assistance to complete key site improvements, such as utilities, sewage, paving, landscaping and drainage. However, Darling noted that he was making his remarks in his other capacity, general counsel to Doctors Hospital at Renaissance.

Darling said a 400,000 square feet facility will be built for medical and research space. He said it will include 30,000 square feet of space for a new Family Medicine Center for clinical services and graduate medical education.

Darling said the 400,000 square feet facility will also include 200,000 square feet of space for a new Renaissance Research Institute that will house 100,000 square feet’s worth of science laboratories for the UTRGV School of Medicine. He said the Renaissance Research Institute will house research laboratories in genomics, house a tissue and tumor bank and clinical trial facilities.

Darling said the 400,000 square feet facility will also include 170,000 square feet of space for a Renaissance Medical Pavilion that will house medical offices for scientists and physicians.

In addition to the 400,000 square feet facility, Darling said there will also be 48,000 square feet given over to residential living. He said this will be known as The Village at Renaissance and will provide accommodation for residents, faculty and staff of the newly accredited residency programs at DHR.

Darling said Doctors Hospital at Renaissance Health System is investing over $200 million in infrastructure, economic investment and jobs to fully build its DHR South Campus. He said it is anticipated that at least 200 jobs will be created with an average pay of $65,000 a year.

In an in-depth interview with Guardian afterwards, Darling explained how DHR’s partnership with UTRGV School of Medicine will work.

“What we are building is a DHR facility with a Graduate Medical Education program. We are a teaching hospital with UTRGV. Right now it is teaching hospital with UT Health Science Center at San Antonio because they have the residency program. That residency program will be transferred to UTRGV. Right now, the hospital is a teaching hospital and we are responsible for housing the residents. The hospital will own the residents’ village,” Darling said.

The next thing UTRGV School of Medicine needs in order to get accreditation is to have a clinic for their residents to practice in, Darling said. “Normally, a teaching hospital would do that but it can be a university. In this case it is going to be the hospital. DHR will own the residents’ graduate medical education center. That will be a training facility, primarily with the graduate medical education students there.”

A third component, Darling said, is the research center that the hospital is building. “The intention is and the negotiations are for UTRGV to lease 100,000 square feet to put their program in there until they do something with the five acres donated by the City of McAllen. But, DHR is going forward and we think there is an opportunity there, not only the 200,000 square feet facility but another 150,000 square feet of research capacity. That is all going to be owned by the hospital. It will be dedicated to the graduate medical education program. It will be affiliated with the university. Then the research center will hopefully be leased to the new university.”

Darling said the medical education and research complex is really a partnership between DHR and UTRGV. “It is a big obligation. I do not think people understand this. The medical school would not exist without the hospital taking on the role of the teaching hospital. One hundred twenty of the new residents are going to be located here. We would not have received coordinating board accreditation without that. It is an expensive process for the hospital to be doing that but that is a great partnership and the doctors wanted to do that.”

A reporter asked Darling to wear his Mayor of McAllen hat for the next question: how pleased was he that McAllen was finally getting a piece of the UTRGV action. Darling responded: “We pledged two million dollars a year for ten years to make sure UTRGV got put in Edinburg. We did not expect anything for that but by the same token we supported Edinburg on that process and we always said there was enough for everybody. This is evidence there is enough for everybody. It is a great location because Pharr is just across the street that way (pointing east). I am standing in Edinburg and I am looking at McAllen. It is a great opportunity for everybody to participate and I am sure there will be enough for everybody.”

Darling also spoke from a mayoral standpoint about future development south of the medical education and research complex. “I have asked the City to master plan this all the way to Violet because this is going to grow. You have multiple land owners so it makes sense to get to together and say, we think we can develop this in conjunction with everybody as opposed to selling off individual parcels and have some developer try to figure it out. So, hopefully it will be master planned and the property just across the street in Pharr is farmland right now and so the opportunity to grow there is going to be there. Everybody is going to have a piece of the UTRGV believe me.”

Asked if there was anything else he wanted to say about the project, Darling said: “I am so happy we are going to have some of the research here because it is a wonderful opportunity. I said at the launch of UTRGV that we will have a bunch of kids in kindergarten right now that will never have to leave the Valley to become physicians. Now they will never have to leave the Valley to become research scientists. That is exciting for me.”

At the news conference, Dr. Carlos Cardenas was recognized for his vision. He is one of the founding physicians that built DHR and is now chairman of the hospital.

“If I think back 15 years ago, I think what has driven us all has been this labor of love and passion for the people who live in our community, recognizing that there is no reason why the Valley should not have what they have in any other major metropolitan area in the United States,” Cardenas said, in an interview after the news conference.

Asked if he could differentiate what DHR would be doing in the new medical education and research complex from what UTRGV School of Medicine would be doing, Cardenas said: “What we are doing is an extension of the medical school because what we are providing is a campus for the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley medical school in terms of building a research institute. In addition there will be housing for residents in the Residents Village and those are the future physicians, the young physicians who come to train in our graduate medical education programs and the family medicine center will be there as well as part of the family practice residency program. So again, this is building on the vision we had for the medical school and actually being able to bring students who will then become physicians. Many of them will stay in our area to help take care of us when we are old and need help. So, that is really what the whole plan really is. It is a continuum of what we started so many years ago.”

Among the VIPs to attend the news conference were state Senators Eddie Lucio and Juan Hinojosa, McAllen City Commissioners Aida Ramirez, Scott Crane, and Veronica Vela Whitacre, Edinburg City Commissioner Homer Jasso, Jr., McAllen City Manager Roy Rodriguez, Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza, UT-Pan American Interim President Havidan Rodriguez, Rio Grande Valley Partnership President and CEO Julian Alvarez, McAllen Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Steve Ahlenius, and McAllen Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Keith Patridge.