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Conceptual Framework for Lower Rio Grande Valley Regional Academic Health Center (11/11/98)

In 1992, the 73rd Texas Legislature created the historic South Texas Border Initiative. This legislation was intended to enhance state funding for higher education in the region. The University of Texas System and one of its component institutions, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, expanded on this effort two years later during the 74th Texas Legislature by inspiring legislation that resulted in the South Texas/Border Region Health Professional Initiative. This initiative brought a host of new health education programs to this resource-starved and medically under-served area. The 75th Texas Legislature achieved the latest milestone in improving education and health professional opportunities in the South Texas/Border Region by mandating the creation of a Regional Academic Health Center within a four-county area, including Cameron, Starr, Hidalgo and Willacy Counties, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

The establishment of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Regional Academic Health Center was guided by the following principles:

First, the Regional Academic Health Center should be a collaborative Valley-wide effort that benefits the people of the Lower Rio Grande Valley as described in the enabling legislation;

Second, the Regional Academic Health Center must build on the strengths of the major population centers of Hidalgo and Cameron Counties;

Third, the Regional Academic Health Center must recognize the existing capabilities and resources of (1) higher education institutions, including those of the U. T. System, and (2) hospitals and clinics, now present in the targeted communities; and

Fourth, the Regional Academic Health Center must satisfy the accreditation requirements for undergraduate and graduate medical education.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley Regional Academic Health Center will be the first new health education campus of the 21st Century. The Regional Academic Health Center will incorporate a new paradigm for educating health professionals. This emerging paradigm takes full advantage of cutting edge technology for electronic-based distance learning and education to establish a "virtual campus" of multiple resources. It is anticipated that (1) the sites for the Regional Academic Health Center will be connected by sophisticated telecommunications provided by the teaching hospitals and used for distance learning and interactive video consultation, and (2) the sites will be connected by such telecommunications systems to The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, and to The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and The University of Texas Health Center at Tyler. In this model, community and institutional needs will be identified and then programs will be developed to meet those needs. The physical infrastructure of the Regional Academic Health Center will be designed to support the new programs.

The entire Regional Academic Health Center effort is dependent on a functional community-academic partnership. This partnership leverages scarce state resources by utilizing the existing health delivery infrastructure, which includes: (1) locally funded primary care residency programs; (2) community-based hospitals and clinics; (3) local institutions of higher education; (4) existing health professional education programs; and (5) gifts of land, physical structures, and financial support. The Regional Academic Health Center will build on the unique assets and strengths of each of the major population centers.

In accordance with Texas Education Code Sections 74.611-74.615, the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System will establish a Regional Academic Health Center to serve the four-county area of Starr, Willacy, Cameron and Hidalgo Counties. The Board of Regents will (1) establish a Valley-wide Regional Academic Health Center with three major divisions: a Medical Research Division, a Medical Education Division and a Public Health Division, as more particularly described below, and (2) commit funding from the issuance of Permanent University Fund bond proceeds to expand the scope and further the success of the Regional Academic Health Center. The Board of Regents endorses the operation of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Academic Health Center Foundation, Inc., ("Foundation") the role of which will be to support the operation of the Regional Academic Health Center.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio has been assigned the responsibility for oversight and operation of the Medical Education Division and the Medical Research Division of the Regional Academic Health Center. The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston has been assigned the responsibility for oversight and operation of the Public Health Division of the Regional Academic Health Center.

HIDALGO COUNTY

The Medical Research Division of the Regional Academic Health Center will include a major medical research facility adjacent to The University of Texas - Pan American campus to be (1) constructed using $15 million from the U. T. System's share of Permanent University Fund bond proceeds and (2) overseen and operated by The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The commitment of Permanent University Fund bond proceeds is contingent on a commitment of matching funds from Foundation, city and county governmental agencies, and the medical and business communities from the four-county area to be used for the operating expenses of the Medical Research Division. In addition, the Board of Regents will require a gift of land on which the facility for the Medical Research Division may be constructed.

This research facility will provide state-of-the-art space and equipment for scholars and scientists to address pressing problems of the Texas-Mexico border and the Lower Rio Grande Valley: for example, diabetes mellitus, environmental health, infectious and communicable diseases, and birth defects. Scientists in the facility will collaborate in research endeavors with their colleagues on The University of Texas - Pan American campus. This research facility and its faculty members will provide the necessary environment to attract major new research grants from and contracts with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, as well as federal and state environmental health agencies. In the future, this synergism could result in a contiguous research park. Of course, the development of such a research park would require significant support, including gifts of land on which the park could be built and the commitment of funds from the citizens of Hidalgo County to operate the facilities.

Expansion of the Medical Education Division of the Regional Academic Health Center in McAllen will include a medical education building in McAllen to be (1) constructed using $5 million from U. T System's share of Permanent University Fund bond proceeds and (2) overseen and operated by The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The commitment of Permanent University Fund bond proceeds is contingent on a commitment of $5 million matching funds from the communities for the medical education division in McAllen, and on provision of a multi-specialty clinic for education and training purposes. The facility would provide faculty and staff offices, student/resident physician carrels, telecommunication, long distance-learning, computer services, library, classrooms, and medical auditorium for teaching, lecturing and interactive telecommunications. One or more new residency programs will be developed in McAllen in accordance with community resources and the needs and requirements of accrediting bodies. Expansion of the Medical Education Division in McAllen is contingent upon support from the Foundation, city and county governmental agencies, and the medical and business communities in the designated area.

CAMERON COUNTY

The health infrastructure of the City of Brownsville represents the first line of defense to many of the health problems of underdeveloped countries in Latin America. As a primary port of entry into the United States, this community experiences many of the public health problems of Third World countries. The environment of this border community possesses many potential risks to health which, if unchecked, present a very real danger to the health and welfare of the entire state. Brownsville has an enthusiastic and dedicated health professional community, including two hospitals and an established federally qualified community health center.

The Public Health Division of the Regional Academic Health Center will be created as a unit of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston's School of Public Health and will include a building to be constructed in Brownsville contingent upon the gift of land on, or adjacent to the Texas Southmost College campus, the home of U. T. Brownsville. The building will be constructed on such land using $5 million of tuition revenue bond proceeds out of the $30 million appropriated by the Legislature for construction of the Regional Academic Health Center. Additionally, subject to Legislative appropriation, a $5 million endowment from tobacco settlement funds would be available for public health and allied health education. The U. T. School of Public Health - Houston is ranked among the top three such schools in the United States. The public health discipline identifies ways that individual health care providers and agencies may improve the health of the citizenry. This new division of the School of Public Health will house faculty scholars and scientists and graduate students whose disciplines include epidemiology, biostatistics, population dynamics, environmental health and hazards, and preventive medicine. The activities of the new division of the School of Public Health will be integrated into and faculty will have the opportunity to collaborate in research being conducted in the Medical Research Division. A masters-level degree is envisioned. The building which will house the Public Health Division of the Regional Academic Health Center will also allow for the creation of new and expanded nursing and allied health programs and facilities at the U. T. Brownsville/Texas Southmost College Partnership.

Additionally, resident rotations (to become full residencies when appropriate) at Brownsville health facilities will be developed in accordance with community resources and the needs and requirements of accrediting bodies to complement the Medical Education Division of the Regional Academic Health Center.

The City of Harlingen brings to the Regional Academic Health Center a strong health delivery system, which includes a major hospital and a collaborating federally qualified community health center. Harlingen has a recognized technical college, which is home to a number of health professional programs.

The Medical Education Division of the Regional Academic Health Center will include an undergraduate medical and graduate medical education facility to be located in Harlingen and overseen and operated by The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. This facility will house educational facilities and programs for third and fourth year medical students and educational support for three or more new resident programs sponsored by Valley Baptist Hospital. All educational programs will be developed in accordance with community resources and needs and requirements of accrediting bodies. Construction of the education facility will be funded with $25 million of tuition revenue bond proceeds appropriated by the Legislature for the construction of the Regional Academic Health Center. These programs in Cameron County will be contingent upon support from the Foundation, city and county governmental agencies, and the medical and business communities in the designated areas.

All new facilities supporting the programs of the Medical Education Division, the Medical Research Division, and the Public Health Division will be made available to practicing physicians and other health professionals in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy Counties for library support, professional meetings, and continuing education programs.

Finally, the process to establish a 21st Century Regional Academic Health Center for the Lower Rio Grande Valley is based on the premise that people support what they help create. In partnership with the people of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, the U.T. System, including and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and The University if Texas Health Science Center at Houston, join together to accomplish the creation of the Regional Academic Health Center for the benefit of the generations of the new millennium.

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