Grant award enables UTHSC to establish much needed workforce center
South Texas counties struggling to staff hospitals and clinics have a new ally in the Health Science Center's Regional Center for Health Workforce Studies.
Dr. Antonio Furino, professor in the department of family and community medicine, established the center through a five-year cooperative agreement of $1.2 million with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
"The new research center will help us develop effective strategies for attracting the right mix of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to serve the people who live in the border region," said Tommy G. Thompson, secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "The grant is part of our broader commitment to improving access to health care in this underserved area."
The research center is organized within the Center for Health Economics and Policy at the UTHSC. It is the first center of its kind in the region and the fifth such center in the country. It will serve the five-state area of Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, maintaining a special research focus on the areas near the U.S.-Mexico border.
"Health professionals are the critical human factors who connect the intent of laws and programs to the people needing care. Traditionally, we have had little knowledge of the complex set of variables that affect their number, location and performance," Dr. Furino said. "The research at the new center will ensure informed policy decisions and will help key programs to succeed."
Dr. Furino will serve as the center's director. Dr. Michael Parchman, associate professor in the department of family and community medicine, was a co-investigator in the grant and is an associate scientist of the center. Dr. Parchman will link the center's initiatives to complementary research projects at the Health Science Center.
"There are very unique features to this region of the country, compared to New York, for example, that require a regional focus and a regional sensitivity to the health care needs of our population," Dr. Parchman said. He cited the high poverty levels, poor environmental conditions and health challenges such as tuberculosis, measles and mumps that affect South Texas. Additionally, almost 3 million of the 11 million border residents have no health insurance.
"The cooperative agreement recognizes the crisis in health care that border residents face and the role local researchers can play in improving conditions." HRSA Acting Administrator Elizabeth M. Duke said.