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U. T. System briefs State Senator Lucio and leaders in Harlingen about Regional Academic Health Center (11-16-99)

Harlingen—State Senator Eddie Lucio and the Valley Baptist Health System hosted a two-hour informational session for community leaders and members of the media in Harlingen about the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC).

University of Texas Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Charles Mullins, M.D., reviewed the commitment of the U. T. Board of Regents to the RAHC’s forthcoming presence in four cities in the Lower Rio Grande Valley: Harlingen

($25 million for medical education), Edinburg ($15 million for biomedical research), Brownsville ($5 million for public health education), and McAllen ($5 million for medical education). He also indicated that the Regents may consider the first of the RAHC building plans for two or three of the cities during their scheduled February 10, 2000, meeting.

The U. T. Health Science Center at San Antonio’s president, John P. Howe, III, M.D., thanked State Senator Lucio for convening the information meeting and for his leadership in promoting the approval of state support for the RAHC to benefit the people of South Texas. He introduced the Dean of the Medical School, James J. Young, Ph.D., who reviewed the status of the medical education component of the RAHC in Harlingen and McAllen, as well as the medical research component in Edinburg.

Dr. Young introduced Dr. Leo Vela, the newly selected Regional Dean who echoed Senator Lucio’s rallying theme that "together we can." Subsequently, the public health component of the RAHC in Brownsville was addressed by Palmer Beasley, M.D., Dean of the School of Public Health at the U. T. Health Science Center at Houston.

The following comments are from Dean Young’s remarks:

"It has been a great privilege to work with our partners in the Lower Rio Grande Valley during the past 12 years. Dr. Adela Valdez, who now works with Valley Baptist, was the inaugural center director of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Office of the South Texas Area Health Education Center (AHEC), which we initiated in 1989. Everything of consequence has come from the cooperative spirit so many have exhibited.

"Thanks to the tireless work of Senator Lucio and the South Texas delegation in both the Senate and House, the South Texas/Border Region Health Professional Education Initiative (STBI) came into being. This program, started in 1996, has enabled the continuation and enhancement of programs initiated by AHEC. It provides educational services across the health spectrum, including medical, dental, nursing, allied health, and more.

"The UTHSCSA School of Medicine has operational oversight of the educational component of RAHC. The RAHC is a subset of the Medical School, referred to by the accrediting body as "a geographically separated program." The Medical School will also oversee the research component at Edinburg.

"Dr. Leo Vela will begin his appointment as Regional Dean for the RAHC on March 1, 2000. He will locate in Harlingen, first in leased facilities, later in the RAHC building to be constructed.

"Our intention is to have 24 third-year and 24 fourth-year medical students in clinical training in the Valley. They will have completed their first two years of medical school at the Health Science Center and then will move to the Valley, where they will receive their clinical training. We are currently recruiting the first class that will become eligible for assignment in 2002.

"We will use a community-based educational model. Thus, we are now identifying community physicians to serve as faculty on a part-time, full-time or volunteer basis. Except where accreditation requires otherwise, we will first seek faculty who already live and work in the Valley.

"Medical student rotational training sites are being finalized at Valley Baptist and Su Clinica Familiar. While we await formal establishment of our medical student programs in July 2002, we plan to initiate student rotations on a voluntary basis. We have already begun with pediatrics, expect to begin rotations in internal medicine in early 2000, and by July 2000 would hope to firm up plans to do so in obstetrics/gynecology. These programs will take place primarily at Valley Baptist Hospital and Su Clinica Familiar.

"The formal signing of the Valley Baptist – UTHSCSA articulation agreement was publicized in a full page in the Sunday paper in Harlingen.

"Start up funding for FY 2000 has been authorized for $ 2.5 million; for FY 2001 it will become $4.5 million.

"Valley Baptist already has an active family practice residency program. We need four concurrent programs to assure medical school accreditation. There is an expectation that three new residency programs will be established with Valley Baptist. We are agreed on these programs: Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, and Obstetrics/Gynecology. We are developing applications necessary for residency program approval and hope to submit them by the fall of 2000. A community physician, Ruben Martinez, M.D., has agreed recently to head our obstetrics/gynecology residency and medical student programs.

"Thanks to a gift of land from Valley Baptist, the site for the RAHC-Harlingen building is confirmed, very close to the hospital. The U. T. Regents have accepted the land gift. We hope, during the month of December 1999, to be able to announce the land transfer once a few legal technicalities are settled.

"On the building for RAHC-Harlingen, the program document is already completed, and an expert design/build team will soon begin its work. Until this building is completed, the Regional Dean, Dr. Vela, and his future staff will be located in leased space near where the new building will be constructed.

"In Edinburg, we have nearly completed discussions with U. T. Pan Am and will soon be announcing details about the research component of RAHC. This site will have room for future growth. We anticipate great synergies between UTHSCSA and U. T. Pan Am. We are evaluating which scientific programs to feature. Then, a program document will be written. After that, a design/build team will work to complete a plan for the facility in Edinburg. We anticipate the building being constructed in the early months of 2003. There are a few details about on-going operational costs associated with the facility that are yet to be concluded.

"The research focus will be on disease problems prevalent in South Texas and the Border Region, such as tuberculosis and diabetes. A scientific team from the Health Science Center is actively engaged with scientists from U. T. Pan American to determine the specific research programs.

"In McAllen, we are working to conclude an agreement with Mayor Montalvo to satisfy a five million dollars match requirement set by the Regents. In due course, we expect to have medical residency programs in McAllen. We hope this necessary agreement can take place before the end of calendar year 1999. We are also in discussions with David McLean, Executive Director of the McAllen Medical Center, and with community surgeons for possible initiation of surgical resident rotations to begin in McAllen.

"The cooperative spirit of many physicians in McAllen encourages us. During the last 10 days, we met with 35 surgeons from McAllen to consider a possible residency rotation concept, to be followed by clinical clerkships there."

State Senator Eddie Lucio recognized the hard work done by so many, including his elected official peers in the Legislature and Senate, to make RAHC an imminent success story. He closed the meeting with the comment: "Hopefully, we’ll all be around here in a few years when we introduce in the Senate a bill for a full-fledged health science center for the Rio Grande Valley."