McALLEN, RGV – I had the advantage of being in San Antonio when the newly constructed Medical School and University Hospital were just being fully opened in 1970 and know the necessity of establishing a health district as a means of securing public support for such a massive undertaking.
I also have seen the benefits of public participation to produce a world renowned institution in just 25 years in San Antonio that could take less time here in creating a fully developed UT RGV Medical School with community support. A medical school by design is a highly regulated, expensive proposition with generational impact. However, the reason I believe this could be realized sooner here is that we already have many of the essential building blocks in place that make this possible if the community as a whole remains united.
Historically, it was apparent in 1970 that a change in the health delivery system in San Antonio was urgently needed at that time, and important to note that the development of the medical school itself though not easy brought about solutions to many of the healthcare needs while also serving as a major catalyst for economic development and jobs. Prior to the establishment of UTHSCSA the primary hospital, the Robert B. Green down town, built in 1914 served as the local emergency room, the county morgue, the maternity unit and new born nursery. I was assigned there as my first civilian job after returning from Vietnam duty to the unit management department which provided the staffing, supplies and equipment support for these units. The morgue was a large walk in refrigerator, the maternity wards were open bays, the emergency room was standing room only and handled most of the city’s trauma. In general, things were pretty critical because the infrastructure and financial support had not kept pace with the growth. However, you could see even early on that the leadership was on the right course through the establishment of the UTHSCSA and Hospital which had begun to directly address these needs after the health district there was created. Today that old morgue refrigerator is a multi-story forensic center, the maternity units have a state of the art labor and deliver units, and the old emergency room is now a first rate trauma center. I do not believe this, nor many other beneficial changes that have occurred since that time would have been possible without the support of the citizens through a formally established health district.
A list of major accomplishment of UTHSCSA over the past 25 years with community support includes:
• donated more than $1 billion in care to the medically indigent
• had a $25 billion economic impact on the region
• graduated more than 15,000 health professionals
• been recognized internationally for its research breakthroughs
• been recognized nationally for its # 1 Dental School
• attracted more than $110 million in annual research funding
• built an endowment of more than $25 million
• been ranked ninth in the nation for impact of research by ScienceWatch
• experienced a budget growth from $13 million in 1972 to almost $300 million in its 25th year
• offered thousands of continuing education programs to hundreds of thousands of participants
• forged partnerships with military, VA, public and private institutions in the region and launched 21 educational programs since 1995 throughout South Texas
I point this classic example out because the long track to a fully functioning and financially stable medical education and research program experienced in San Antonio, could potentially be realized sooner here because we have had a productive relationship with the University of Texas under the direction of Chancellor Dr. Francisco Cigarroa for well over a decade already toward that goal and through an experienced UT faculty working with us with the first hand experience needed to bring this about in partnership with the LRGV leadership. This long term association with the LRGV has put in place essential components required for formal medical education and training to occur including the creation of the RAHC in Harlingen, a major research facility in Edinburg, a first rate public health program in Brownsville and the establishment of GME Residency Training programs throughout the area in association with the local hospitals, the most recent being established at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. In my view, UTHSCSA has worked well with the local leadership and in concert with our Valley legislative delegation, notably Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and Senator Eddie Lucio, Sr. who have been supporting this effort for over a decade, as well as our city and county officials, the business community, and our economic development boards. Particular credit goes to our local physicians many of who have serve for years in the vital role of faculty for UT medical students here and to our hospitals who have invested heavily in creating GME Resident Training sites to support this medical school; and who each year absorb million of dollars of uncompensated care costs provided to our local communities. These are all essential components for success that have stepped up and that have provided much of the heavy lifting for years here toward the creation of a formal medical school at no direct cost to the public.
In light of what has been done to this point by our leadership, I concur with Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia that a health district is now the keystone building block needed to get the full benefit from this great opportunity and put the LRGV on a par with that of any other part of the state or nation. The way is clear, we have pronounced chronic healthcare needs to be addressed, we have rapid growth demands and high poverty rates, but we also have the talent in this young growing population to pursue careers in healthcare, to train future doctors and other health professionals here, and we have the leadership to do this right. The most productive way for local citizens to support the UT RGV Medical School opportunity which any other region in Texas would dearly want to have, is through the establishment of a health service district. There are no examples of a high quality medical school without such a health district in place which provides the citizens a means to insure its long term growth potential; and in doing so help to promote the major secondary benefits that can be derived in economic stimulus, jobs and a better quality of life for Valley families. There is every reason to believe that this new medical school under the direction of Dean Dr. Francisco Fernandez will achieve the success experienced by San Antonio and UTHSCSA if the citizens remain united in their support here. I have seen this happen and I have seen the community pride that develops when participating in something that is really important, and that will help to change lives for generations to come. I therefore support the development of a health district to that end.
Ron Tupper is a Rio Grande Guardian healthcare contributor and has 30 years experience in the healthcare industry in South Texas. He co-founded El Milagro Clinic, McAllen’s first public clinic built specifically for the uninsured and working poor. He has 10 years of academic experience and currently serves as Project Director for the Rio One Health Network & Senior Consultant for Grants & Foundation Programs at Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance.