HARLINGEN, RGV – Valley Baptist Health System CEO Manny Vela says there’s a misconception that trauma services for adults are not available in the Rio Grande Valley.

Vela said the misconception has taken root at the state Capitol as well as in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I think there was a misperception established that trauma services are not available in the Valley. That is just not accurate,” Vela said.

“We have been designated as a Level 2 Adult Trauma Center for a year this past January. To get to that point we actually acted as a Level 2 Trauma program for a year prior to that point in time. So, we have been offering trauma services for adults for the last two years.”

Manny Vela

Vela made his remarks during a recent livestream conversation on Facebook with Rio Grande Guardian editor Steve Taylor. Also appearing on the show was Jennifer Bartnesky Smith, chief strategy officer at Valley Baptist.

“I have been making efforts in Austin to set the record straight because I think there was a mischaracterization in regards to these (trauma) services being available in the Valley,” Vela said.

Vela pointed out that within the last few months, McAllen Medical Center received its Level 2 trauma center designation also.

“As we sit here today you have two Level 2 adult trauma programs in the Rio Grande Valley, which is phenomenal. I want to take the time to congratulate McAllen Medical Center because we know how terribly difficult, both from a logistical, procedural, perspective and also on the financial side (it is) to get to that point.”

The only level higher than a Level 2 is a Level 1. The difference between the two, Vela noted, has nothing to do with clinical care. Rather, Level 1 is reached when a research and academic component is added. 

“What I have been trying to do with our legislators and the governor’s office is make sure they understand that on the clinical side, as we sit here today, we are offering the highest clinical level of trauma care available and we are doing it incredibly well. We are proud to be able to serve the Valley in that capacity,” Vela said.

“I think it is also important to note that the only distinction between a Level 2 and a Level 1 is an academic and research component. I would like to emphasize to our community what you have available to you is the highest level of clinical care, period, bar none.”

The push to secure a Level 1 designation is likely most important to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s School of Medicine, Vela said. “I respect that completely,” he said. “As a matter of fact we are having ongoing conversations with UTRGV School of Medicine in regards to a pathway to get to Level 1.”

The issue of whether the Valley gets a Level 1 trauma center has been discussed by legislators during the 86th Legislative Session currently underway in Austin. Gov. Greg Abbott has said it is a priority the Valley secures such a designation. State funding to help the Valley achieve the status is being added to an appropriations bill. The funding would be administered by the Department for State Health Services.

“What I have been trying to impress upon our folks in Austin is simply, if you are going to offer any support – (and) we are always willing to take support, from Austin or Washington, D.C., for that matter – (please) take into consideration that two of us have already made the expense associated with going down this road,” Vela said.

“We did not wait for the state to offer dollars of support. I am not asking for extra kudos in that regard, I am just asking for the taking of note of that. But that we will be absolutely willing to accept any support the state is willing to give us. But the costs associated really are associated with going to Level 2, not necessarily all the way to Level 1.”

Vela said that when it comes to trauma services, there are two major points worth repeating.  

“One, we offer the highest clinical level of care on the trauma side available bar none. And, the second point, is, absolutely, if the state is willing to help us – I know the governor has mentioned this being a priority – all day long.”

Vela said Valley Baptist has done a cost-benefit analysis and a needs assessment.

“The need was huge in the Valley. There was a void, as of two years ago. We made a determination that we were going to create a program that was going to lose money but we did so because we knew the need existed in the Valley. We pulled the trigger, (and) we sit here today incredibly proud.”

Vela reiterated that he commends the School of Medicine for wanting to be associated with medical programs that want to go to Level 1.

“There is nothing wrong with that because, what you have involved is residency programs through general surgery and then research programs. All those things can lead to best and better practices. So, I am not dismissing (it), that Level 1 is unimportant. I completely agree that it is important but if you are talking about clinical care, which is what we are talking about, primarily, then Level 2 is the epitome on the clinical side.”

Vela explained why it important for communities in the Valley to understand that there is quality trauma services in the region.

“When you look at trauma cases, time is of the essence. Studies have shown that if a trauma patient presents within an hour, there are exponential benefits in regards to their care. So, if this misperception is, for some reason, spread around the Valley and our folks are not aware, if by chance a trauma patient needs the care, our patient might not know where they can come to receive that care.”

A large percentage of patients needing trauma services come through emergency management services. 

“We have done a great job of educating our EMS providers around the Valley. So, I think that part is covered. There is still a percentage of patients who do present (themselves to hospitals) in private vehicles and I want to make sure they understand that we are available to treat trauma-type and related incidents or care here in Harlingen and now in McAllen. You will not hear me shy away from commending McAllen Medical Center. I will do so again.”

Vela said he wanted it “on the record” that the Valley has the best legislative delegation in the state of Texas.

“They have been very responsive and receptive to conversations. What I have asked them to do is make sure that this is a competitive process, that not a single hospital or institution have an unfair advantage or an exclusive roadmap to potential support dollars (for trauma services),” Vela said.

“What I suggest they try to avoid is language that might create an exclusive route to these tax dollars. This is an important key. These are all tax dollars. I cannot imagine a situation where our delegation, or the governor, or the lieutenant governor would create an exclusive road map (that benefits a particular hospital system) as it relates to the support of a trauma program, definitely as it relates to tax dollars.”

Vela added: 

“My primary goal was to set the record straight in regards to the services that are currently available down here. I tell people often, health systems compete very robustly down here. We are fighting to be the best, the first, the only. Let us do that. The end result, the benefit to our community, is phenomenal because what we are doing right now is offering the highest quality care and the best and safest environments possible in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story is taken from a recent Facebook livestream conversation between Valley Baptist Health System CEO Manny Vela (pictured right), Valley Baptist Health System Chief Strategy Officer Jennifer Bartnesky Smith, and Rio Grande Guardian editor Steve Taylor.