Directors and program officers of Centers of Excellence from California to Texas are in San Antonio today and Friday for a U.S.-Mexico Border Health Conference at the Omni Hotel, 9821 Colonnade. The group includes representatives of Area Health Education Centers, Health Careers Opportunity Programs and Health Education Training Centers Alliances.
The meeting, "Building a Workforce for a Healthy Border," was organized by the Hispanic Center of Excellence in the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC). Media are invited to interview the participants through 4 p.m. Friday, when the conference wraps up. The meeting is in the La Joya Ballroom on the lobby level of the Omni.
"The Secretary of Health and Human Services (Tommy Thompson) has made it known that he is going to request an increase in the number of community health centers by 1,000," said Armando Pollack, M.S.W., program officer from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). "This consortium of Centers of Excellence from each of the states will be vital in training the health providers in cultural competence and diversity. It's a critical issue. If the federal government's goal is going to be met, the responsibility falls on health science centers to train people to serve in distressed areas."
"The issues we face are quite problematic," said Steven A. Wartman, M.D., Ph.D., who welcomed conference participants Thursday. "Even if you take away the daunting social issues, you deal with workforce issues that are equally daunting. Various health care commissions have tried to project what we need, but it remains that we face profound difficulties in improving the appropriate distribution of health care professionals to underserved regions." He is executive vice president for academic and health affairs at UTHSC and dean of the School of Medicine.
Martha Medrano, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Hispanic Center of Excellence at UTHSC, noted the government is for the first time encouraging Centers of Excellence to work together. "It's not very often we have an opportunity to develop a national model at the request of the federal government," she said.
Henry Lopez, M.S.W., acting director of the Division of Health Careers Diversity and Development within HRSA, said the Health Science Center has a long history of promoting health careers opportunities. "We all benefit from your support," he said. He urged the conference participants to continue this important ongoing dialog. "This is not just a border health issue. How far is the border? We don't know anymore. You can go to Iowa and find communities of Czechs, Russians and Hispanics. You can go to Georgia and find diversity, as well."
Pollack said the conference attendees are learning the magnitude of the border health workforce issue. Representatives from California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas are presenting health data collected from physicians in their regions.
UTHSC is the only health sciences university in the country to have two Hispanic Center of Excellence grants. In addition to its long-established Center of Excellence in the School of Medicine, UTHSC last fall was awarded a Center of Excellence in its Dental School. That center is under the direction of Ramon Baez, D.D.S.