FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 7, 2008
AUSTIN, TX -- Today Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. challenged the University of Texas Board of Regents at their meeting in Edinburg to Remember the Rio Grande Valley when it comes to deciding where the next medical school should be established.
"I am here to offer you a challenge as you set your priorities for the U.T. System," said Sen. Lucio. He welcomed newly appointed Regent Janiece M. Longoria, daughter of former Valley legislator and Judge Raul Longoria, and praised the Board of Regents, Chancellor Mark Yudof and President Bill Powers for their current leadership while recognizing the long history of cooperation from the U.T. System over his 20 years as a legislator.
"I especially acknowledge the efforts of former Chancellor Bill Cunningham in championing the vision of the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC), which I now intend to expand into a four-year medical school by re-filing Senate Bill 420 (80th legislative session), the bill to establish the University of Texas Health Science Center Rio Grande Valley (UTHSC-RGV)," said Sen. Lucio.
Sen. Lucio voiced his concern that in the last six months, he has read in the press of a U.T. initiative to train first through fourth year medical students in Austin. He also drew attention to plans by the Texas A&M University System of expanding its enrollments in the same area, with the possibility of establishing a Round Rock branch of its medical school. He then mentioned that a 2002 study by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recommended that the next medical school should be located in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso, as they were the most deserving areas of the state.
"Texas has 152 physicians per 100,000 patients and nationally, that figure is 250 per 100,000," explained Sen. Lucio. "In the upcoming session, the Texas Senate is going to look very carefully at the most efficient way to meet the physician shortage in this state.
"As a state Senator I applaud this effort to train more medical students for the delivery of health care," he said. "However, I believe the U.T. System can both increase enrollments at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, as well as train first, second, third and fourth year medical students here in the Valley."
The Texas Department of State Health Services found that the ratio of primary care doctors to patients was only 47 per 100,000 in 1996, and that number has increased to 125 per 100,000 in Cameron county and 105 per 100,000 in Hidalgo county, principally because of the RAHC. Those figures still lag far below state and national levels.
"A medical school would mean a better ratio of doctors to patients in South Texas," noted Sen. Lucio. "We need to work together now to develop the model to make this happen. I believe the Valley is ready to do whatever it takes to partner with the U.T. System. If everyone in the Valley makes a health sciences center the number one goal, the right infrastructure could be put in place."
Sen. Lucio reminded the Regents that he represents the most impoverished area of the state, and yet one of the fastest growing both in Texas and in the country. "One of my major concerns is the disparity in our region compared to other regions of the state in terms of professional schools and the lack of opportunities to pursue those studies," he added, "This is alarming and we must address it!"
The Senator concluded by saying that both U.T. campuses, UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan Am (Edinburg), have come a long way in the last 20 years. He then paraphrased a line from Robert Frost's poem, "We have miles to go before we sleep.'"