HARLINGEN, RGV – The 86th Legislature needs to come up with a way of expanding access to healthcare in Texas, a hospital chief has told visiting state lawmakers.

Manny Vela, CEO of Valley Baptist Health System, hosted legislators on the 22nd Valley Legislative Tour. The visiting lawmakers had arrived at Valley International Airport just a couple of hours before the reception. They will be in the Valley for four days.

“Some of the issues that need to be discussed in a more robust manner include how we expand access to healthcare in the State of Texas,” Vela said, in response to a question from Mario Muñoz, a presenter for RGV Public Radio 88 FM, the Valley’s NPR station.

“As we sit here in the Rio Grande Valley we still have the highest rates of medically uninsured people in the state. What happens is when you have such a high rate of uninsured people, a lot of our folks use the emergency departments as their primary care area to receive treatment.”

Vela said when emergency departments are used it leads to “exponentially” higher medical bills, as compared to being seen by a primacy care physician.

“In addition to that, as people do not have access to primary care, unfortunately, by the time they present to the emergency department, a lot of times they are acutely ill. That costs even more to treat them,” Vela said.

“If they had received care from a primary care source earlier, it could have been completely avoided.”

Vela said he realized the issue of access to healthcare is a “difficult” discussion to have for state lawmakers.

“Nobody wants to reference Medicaid expansion. I get the political dynamic. However, there has got to be a way where we can address the issue and try to draw some kind of a consensus as to how to very systematically add access to care, certainly in areas such as the Valley with such high rates of uninsured.”

Trauma Centers

The reception for the visiting lawmakers was held at Valley Baptist’s Woodward Conference Center in Harlingen. In his remarks at the recaption, Vela said an issued that will come up during the legislative session is funding for trauma centers. 

“We are the first and only Level Two adult trauma center here in the Rio Grande Valley. That is important,” Vela said, pointing out that Valley Baptist  has been officially designated officially as a Level Two trauma center for one year, but has been serving in that capacity for two. 

“When the surveyors came in they literally left saying this feels like more of a re-certification than a certification for this designation.”

Vela told lawmakers that they will hear discussions this session about trauma funding, specifically related to Levels 1 and 2. “Let me just emphasis that the distinction between those two levels is simply this: there is an academic and research component associated with Level 1 but Level 2 is the highest clinical rating you can have.”

In the Valley, any collaboration between hospitals and higher education institutions to establish an academic and research component has to involve UT-Rio Grande Valley.

“I relish the opportunity to sit down with our university down here and talk about opportunities on the academic side but I want to emphasize from a clinical perspective we are absolutely offering the highest quality of care as it relates to trauma,” Vela said.


In his interview with 88 FM’s Muñoz, state Sen. Eddie Lucio acknowledged the importance of healthcare for state lawmakers. “Healthcare is always the No. 1 issue. Without that, everything else kind of falls apart, as far as I am concerned,” Lucio said.

In his remarks at the reception, Lucio gave thanks to a number of people for making the legislative tour possible. He ended by thanking his friend Ron Whitlock for being the Valley’s Ambassador in Austin. Whitlock, the veteran broadcaster and public policy advocate, delivers grapefruit to state leaders, state agencies and lawmakers every year. “Thank you, Ron for all that you do for the State of Texas,” Lucio said.


In his interview with 88 FM’s Muñoz, Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell said he was happy to hear a lot of Valley leaders tell the visiting legislators that the region was safe.

“I was happy to see almost all the speakers talk about change this perception that there is some kind of turmoil here in the Rio Grande Valley. That is just a false perception, we need to change that,” Boswell said.

“We need to send a message these are safe communities and peaceful communities. I am pleased to see that message being sent by everyone.”

Asked what the City of Harlingen’s top issues are for the 86th Legislature, Boswell said:

“We need to support the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and the School of Medicine. What is happening there is beneficial of every part of our region. It is something we can all support and work on together.”

Boswell also mentioned the Texas State Technical College system. Its largest campus is in Harlingen.

“We must ensure TSTC continues to deliver great technical training. We must also make sure our school districts are financed in the way they should be,” Boswell said.

Different Perspective

In his remarks at the reception, state Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, spoke about the importance of the Valley Legislative Tour, which is organized by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership.

Lucio said that as a small businessman he likes to learn how to make his ventures more successful. He said he had just read about how it is okay to tell someone what one is doing or involved in, but that it is better to show someone. 

“So, the fact that you are here and you are seeing things first hand will give you an entirely different perspective to the issues we face on the border. And what we have done in this community to make it greater,” Lucio told the visiting lawmakers.

“In the time I have been involved it (the Valley) has become a significantly better place, thanks in part to the stakeholders in this room.”

Lucio said he has seen first hand how a visit to the Valley by a legislator from another part of the state can provide incredible insight to that visitor.

“I have truly witnessed a transformation in the two or three days (on a Valley Legislative Tour) by members who had never been down here before. They had a perception about the Valley and an attitude about South Texas and the border,” Lucio III said.

“They leave, go back to Austin that same session and vow to help us because, ‘no I saw it first-hand and we have got to do something to help. We have to make sure that university is operating or that medical school has what it needs or public education is funded equally’.”

Lucio III also praised the late Bill Summers, who, as president of the RGV Partnership, had made the Valley Legislative Tour what it is today.

“Bill was the heart of the Partnership. He was like a second Dad to me. I know he is looking down and is really proud of what Sergio and the current leadership of the Partnership is doing. Bill, we love you, we miss you, thank you for enhancing my life,” Lucio III said.

Lucio III was referencing Sergio Contreras, president of the RGV Partnership.