Seal of the Senate of the State of Texas Welcome to the Official Website for the Texas Senate
Seal of the Senate of the State of Texas
Welcome to the official website for the
Texas Senate
Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.: District 27
Lucio Masthead Graphic
June 12, 2008
Contact: Doris Sanchez, Press Secretary
(512) 463-0385
Joint Committees Address Health Care Professional Shortage
Many Express Urgency of Building Medical School in South Texas

Compelling testimony by leading health experts impressed upon members of two legislative committees that the time is ripe for a medical school in South Texas.

The International Relations and Trade Committee I chair and the Health and Human Services Committee chaired by Sen. Jane Nelson recently held a joint hearing in Austin on how Texas can address the shortage of health care professionals in medically underserved regions.

Health experts testifying told us repeatedly that a medical school in the Lower Rio Grande Valley was a critical part of the solution for South Texas.

In fact, Dr. Joe Stafford, Assistant Commissioner for Academic Affairs and Research Division at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, emphatically stated, "The population base in the Valley certainly is large enough to fully justify the establishment of a new medical school."

This key assessment was echoed by the President of the University of Texas Health Science Center-San Antonio, Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, who agreed with Dr. Stafford's conclusion. He said, "My belief is consistent with the Coordinating Board's finding that the population of South Texas not only where it is today but also through the projections given by our state demographer basically legitimately justify the need for a new school of medicine in the south Texas region."

Population projections for the border region offered by State Demographer Karl Eschbach, Ph.D., illustrated that although the population increase of 14 percent since the 2000 census is relatively similar for the border as for the rest of the state, the changes are for different reasons. While the border has an over-representation of children and elderly compared to the rest of the state, the high birth rate is a main contributor to growth in this area. This type of population increase, along with poverty, lack of health insurance at a rate of 37.1 percent of the population with 18 percent reliant on Medicaid, high levels of chronic illnesses like diabetes, and its geographically remote location have made it difficult to recruit and retain physicians in the Rio Grande Valley.

Our medically underserved area should begin to improve upon establishment of our own medical school and expansion of our residency programs. Nationally, there are 196 physicians per 100,000 residents, and in Texas that ratio is 158 but in the Rio Grande Valley it is a dismal 106.

While testifying on the need for increased efforts that will strengthen our residency programs, President and CEO of the Valley Baptist Health System, Jim Springfield, noted, "The Rio Grande Valley is an ideal situation for investment in Graduate Medical Education (GME) by the state in primary care disciplines as a way to reduce physician workforce shortages and improve access to health care resulting in improved disease management through primary care."

Mr. Springfield explained how the Valley Baptist Health System historically has funded and supported two residency programs. He then reminded our committees that funding for Graduate Medical Education programs is a critical component of alleviating the health care professional shortage because medical students predominantly remain in areas where they undergo their residency training.

Historically we have begun the necessary groundwork to establish a medical school in our region. In 1997, I authored Senate Bill 606 to establish the Regional Academic Health Center in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Based on the testimony that our joint committees heard at this hearing, I am committed to build on the efforts of our RAHC and establish a medical school in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. By comprehensively strengthening our medical education infrastructure and increasing funding for critical GME programs, we will greatly expand our capacity and resources to address the health care professional shortage.

Dean of the School of Health Science at the University of Texas-Brownsville, Eldon Nelson, Ph.D., said to all of us with urgency, "It is time our leaders commit to provide a full-service Health Science Center and four-year Medical School for the deserving people of the Lower Rio Grande Valley!"

Brownsville Private Practice Physician Dr. Lorenzo Pelly said, "Senators, you can be part of the solution by bringing a complete medical school to the Rio Grande Valley."

The members of both committees thank everyone who joined us at this hearing. The testimonies and personal stories provided a clear picture of the unique challenges we face in the Rio Grande Valley. Participation from health leaders and professionals, especially from South Texas, will prove most valuable in helping us pass the necessary initiatives to address our health care professional shortage.

Clearly, establishing a medical school and increasing resources for GME programs will be part of the solution that my committee will recommend as we address these problems in the upcoming legislative session.

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.