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Regents select 4 sites for Valley academic health center and increase its construction funds by $20 million (11/11/98)

HOUSTON - Four sites in Hidalgo and Cameron Counties were selected Wednesday (November 11) by the University of Texas System Board of Regents as the home of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Regional Academic Health Center.

The regents also voted to organize the academic health center into three divisions (encompassing health education, medical research, and public health programs) and to supplement a $30 million legislative appropriation for buildings with a special $20 million allocation from the Permanent University Fund.

The center, known as the RAHC, was authorized by the last session of the Legislature, which left the selection of a site or sites to the Board of Regents. The regents' plan includes sites in Edinburg, McAllen, Harlingen, and Brownsville linked to each other as well as to other U. T System institutions through telecommunications. The plan is contingent on signing final agreements with partnership organizations in the region and on securing matching funds, gifts of land, and other forms of local support.

"The decisions we have made today constitute the beginning of a dramatic new era in health education, research, and other services in this critically important region of Texas," said Donald L. Evans, chairman of the Board of Regents.

"The RAHC will bring to the Lower Rio Grande Valley a broad range of enhanced health and education services. The long-term success of the RAHC is, of course, dependent on the continued growth of strong partnerships with communities throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The University of Texas System is firmly committed to the development of these collaborative relationships for the benefit of all the people of the region. We are tremendously excited about the immense opportunities for the advancement of health education and research as we move forward in partnership with the communities of the Lower Rio Grande Valley to fulfill the mandate of the Legislature, and, indeed, to go beyond that mandate."

Evans said an important measure of the regents' commitment to the success of the RAHC is their decision to allocate $20 million for construction from the Permanent University Fund, an increase of 67 percent over the legislative appropriation for the RAHC's capital expenditures

"The resources of the Permanent University Fund are precious, and the demands on those funds are extensive," Evans said. "Among the most serious decisions that the Board of Regents ever faces are questions of how best to allocate scarce PUF resources to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of Texans. We believe that this allocation of $20 million for the RAHC, when supplemented with a variety of local matching funds and gifts of land, will help provide the leverage needed to make the RAHC a complete success."

The plan approved Wednesday was developed as a result of a series of site evaluations and other studies led by Regent A. R. (Tony) Sanchez of Laredo. Sanchez was asked by Evans to conduct the evaluations after a consulting firm reported in August on a site proposal submitted by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Academic Health Center Foundation Inc.

"We believe that the organization of the health center into three divisions, as well as locating activities of the RAHC in four cities in Hidalgo and Cameron Counties, is the most effective way for the institution to meet the needs of this long under-served region," Sanchez said.

"The health education and research activities at these sites will be enhanced by the most up-to-date telecommunications links with the other health institutions within the U. T. System. These links will help ensure that the center, the first new health education campus in Texas in the 21st century, will be able to deliver the most advanced health services to the people of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

U. T. System Chancellor William H. Cunningham said: "The approval of this plan and the commitment that the Board of Regents has made for additional capital funding for the RAHC represent a turning point of truly historic proportions for health education in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. It is clear that the RAHC is being established on a strong foundation that will enable it to deliver excellent services to the region. The U. T. System is proud to participate in this project, and we look forward to a long and productive relationship with our partners in the region to ensure the full success of this very important initiative."

Details of the plan approved by the regents include:

  • The Hidalgo County Medical Research Division. This division, to be operated by the U. T. Health Science Center at San Antonio, will provide state-of-the-art laboratory space and equipment for scholars and scientists to conduct research on critical health problems of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and other parts of the Texas-Mexico border region. The division will be housed in a facility adjacent to the campus of U. T. Pan American in Edinburg and will be financed with $15 million from the U. T. System's share of Permanent University Fund bond proceeds. Construction of the facility is contingent on the contribution of matching funds for operating expenses from the foundation and other public- and private-sector entities in the region.

  • The Harlingen Medical Education Division. This Cameron County division, also to be operated by the U. T. Health Science Center at San Antonio, will include educational programs for third- and fourth-year medical students and educational support for three or more new resident programs sponsored by Valley Baptist Hospital. Construction of an educational facility, to be located on the Harlingen site option in the proposal of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Academic Health Center Foundation, will be funded with $25 million of tuition revenue bond proceeds out of the total of $30 million in capital funds appropriated by the Legislature for the RAHC. Development of the facility is contingent on local financial support, a gift of land, and outpatient clinic resources.

  • The Brownsville Public Health Division. This division of the RAHC in Cameron County will be created as a unit of the School of Public Health of the U. T. Health Science Center at Houston. It will be housed in a new facility, which is contingent on Southmost College, the home of U. T. Brownsville. The building will be financed with $5 million of tuition revenue bond proceeds appropriated by the Legislature for the RAHC. The Legislature will be asked to appropriate $5 million for an endowment for the division from the State of Texas' tobacco settlement funds.

The Public Health Division will house faculty scholars and scientists, as well as graduate students, whose disciplines include epidemiology, biostatistics, population dynamics, environmental health and hazards, and preventive medicine. The new facility also will allow for new and expanded academic programs in nursing and allied health at U. T Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.

In addition, the regents' plan includes the development of new medical resident rotations (later to become full residencies) in Brownsville, again in accordance with community needs and resources and the requirements of accrediting bodies. These educational programs would complement activities of the Medical Education Division in Harlingen and, like it, would be operated by the U.T. Health Science Center at San Antonio.

  • Expansion of Medical Education Division in McAllen. The Medical Education Division includes a plan for expanded medical residency programs in McAllen, to be housed in a new facility that will be financed in part with $5 million in Permanent University Fund bond proceeds. The new building is contingent on local matching funds of $5 million. The residency programs will be developed in accordance with community needs and resources and the requirements of accrediting bodies.

All new facilities that are part of the RAHC will be made available to physicians and other health professionals in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy Counties for library services, professional meetings, and continuing education programs.

Contact: President's Office (210) 567-2000