LAGUNA VISTA, RGV – Laguna Vista City Manager Rolando Vela says a new primary care clinic that UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine will unveil this week has already saved a life.

Participating in a Rio Grande Guardian ‘livestream’ on Facebook, Vela said he had been contacted by a local resident whose friend had utilized the clinic last week.

“They had taken their friend over to the clinic in the morning and at that point staff advised immediately that their friend had to go ER. The ambulance came and picked up their friend,” Vela said.

“Based on the staff being able to act immediately, this lady is alive. She had some heart issues. The cardiologist involved was praising the health clinic and the staff for their responsiveness in ensuring this lady went to ER to address the problem she was having. The clinic has only just opened and it has already saved someone’s life. That is what this is all about.”

An interview with Laguna Vista City Manager Rolando Vela about healthcare, eco-tourism and economic development in rural Cameron County.

Posted by Rio Grande Guardian on Friday, July 20, 2018

The groundbreaking ceremony for the UT Health RGV Primary Care clinical site in Laguna Vista will take place from 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday, July 25, at 723 Santa Isabel Blvd. It is one of numerous medical offices the UTRGV School of Medicine—through its clinical practice plan, UT Health RGV—has been opening to provide primary and specialty care to communities throughout the Valley.

In the livestream, Vela said the new primary care practice will provide much-needed care to an area that has not had access to nearby health services for some time. Vela said the center offers a full range of primary care services to the community, including:

  • Acute/Urgent Care.
  • Well Care-all ages.
  • On Site Labs.
  • Care for Chronic Conditions.
  • School Physicals.
  • Sports Physicals.
  • Immunizations.

The practice operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, offers same-day appointments and welcomes walk-in appointments.

The grand opening will include a ribbon cutting ceremony and tours of the facility.

A UTRGV SOM news release pointed out that medical schools throughout the country usually have affiliated practices operated by faculty members who are licensed physicians, as well as other healthcare professionals and medical staff.

“Having a School of Medicine physician practice provides patients with access to individuals who are training the next generation of healthcare providers, and to the latest advancements in treatments and medications for their healthcare needs,” the news release said.

“UT Health RGV has several offices open that provide primary and specialty care, including pediatric pulmonary, genetics and neurology care, women’s health specialists, general and endocrine surgery, rheumatology and other services. More locations will be open in the coming months, including employee health centers at UTRGV’s campuses in Brownsville, Edinburg and Harlingen.”

In the livestream, Vela pointed out that Laguna Vista is 20 to 30 minutes away from Harlingen and Brownsville. “Healthcare is a priority for many local residents, especially for retirees. The ability to have facilities readily available to local residents is of the utmost importance,” he said.

Vela then explained how the primary care clinic came about. He said such a clinic was deemed a priority by city leaders when he took over as city manager ten years ago. He said the project was not plain sailing, though it did receive support from the Small Cities Coalition, a group administered by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council.

“We have been working on this for the past year and a half. The Small Cities Coalition wanted to have a meeting with Dr. Bailey to show that all these small cities are part of the UTRGV community and had a vested interest in the progress and development of the university,” Vela recalled.

“We hosted a meeting in Weslaco and Dr. Bailey came over with the interim dean. Veronica Gonzalez, the vice president of the university, was there. Dr.Bailey talked about UTRGV being a distributive university. At that point we mentioned to Dr. Bailey that we had a vacant clinic here at Laguna Vista with the latest improvements, a turnkey operation, ready for the school of medicine to move in.”

Dr. Guy Bailey is president of UTRGV.

“Dr. Bailey and his staff came and toured the clinic and they were very impressed. There were some issues at first with the numbers. We are trying to make the numbers work. It fell through the cracks. We were able to revive the project and keep it on life support. The new medical school dean came on board. We were able to make a presentation before their staff. What fell through the cracks and was on life support was revived and is now a reality in Laguna Vista.”

Vela said the new clinic will not only serve Laguna Vista but the entire Laguna Madre area. “It is the only clinic in the area that has an in-house lab,” he said. 

And while access to healthcare in the Laguna Madre area will be improved by having the clinic, Laguna Vista leaders also note the positive impact it will have on economic development.

“People move in because healthcare is readily available. And it is a branding opportunity for the university. A way for UTRGV to brand themselves in the Laguna Madre area,” Vela said.

Wednesday will see the official opening of the new clinic, with numerous VIPs expected to attend. They include Dr. John H. Krause, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine, state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., and state Rep.-elect Alex Dominguez. However, the clinic has actually been open for the past couple of weeks.

“They (UTRGV SOM) like the numbers. Local residents are coming in and they are utilizing the clinic. For us as a (city) staff, that is very gratifying,” Vela said, noting that the clinic previously operated as a private concern. 

“There was a private clinic on the site and it did not work out, for some reason,” Vela said. “We tried to show them (UTRGV SOM), not only is a clinic needed, but the numbers are there. We are seeing that. It is sending a message to other businesses that are coming in. We are the best kept secret.”

Vela added that the UTRGV SOM Primary Care Clinic is not just a clinic. “It is an extension of the medical school. They are bringing their physicians, they are bringing their resources.”

Asked if he could ever have imagined a UTRGV School of Medicine facility in Laguna Madre, Vela said: “No. It is very exciting. It is monumental for us,” he added.