Senator Lucio's Letterhead

PRESS STATEMENT FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, May 11, 2007
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez , Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0385

U.T. Health Science Center and Medical School Bill for South Texas Passes in Senate

AUSTIN, TX -- Today the Senate gave its approval to a bill by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. that allows the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System to establish a free-standing U.T. Health Science Center in South Texas that includes a medical school and other health-related degree programs.

"This lays the foundation for a full-fledged medical school by requiring that the first two years of a degree program for medical students be offered at the University of Texas at Brownsville," said Sen. Lucio, who added an amendment with this provision to Senate Bill 420 as requested by Rep. Eddie Lucio, III.

The amendment adds Brooks, Jim Hogg, Kenedy and Zapata counties to the area to be served by the medical school. The original bill would have included only Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties in the school's region.

"The opening of a medical school in the Rio Grande Valley would help recruit doctors to an underserved area and provide students in the region an opportunity to attend a professional school," said Sen. Lucio. "Currently, only one professional school exists south of San Antonio: the Irma Rangel School of Pharmacy at Texas A&M University in Kingsville."

The new bill requires research and training facilities to be established within the existing infrastructure of the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) at U.T. Brownsville, U.T. Pan American and at Harlingen, with an estimated cost of $28 million for startup. Currently, there are eight medical schools in Texas, with the southernmost in San Antonio.

SB 420 is also important because it would increase the availability of physicians who are culturally sensitive to the area's population. Miscommunication problems are less frequent when health care providers understand and are educated to work with the cultural composition of the population. Additionally, studies show that medical students from underserved areas are more likely to practice in those areas.

Texas also has a below-average doctor-per-capita ratio (152 per 100,000) compared to the rest of the nation (220 per 100,000), which compounds the health care crisis: a rapidly growing population with an increasing susceptibility to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer. By 2020 or 2025, the deficit could be as great as 200,000 physicians, or 20 percent of the workforce. Recent studies indicate that the Rio Grande Valley counties have been designated as Medically Underserved Areas by the Department of State Health Services.

The Higher Education Coordinating Board's 2002 study on new medical schools stated that if additional schools were to be established, they should: (1) have a high population area served by significantly fewer than the state average number of physicians; (2) show the potential to address issues of geographic access, with physician workforce diversity; and (3) provide the state the ability to build on significant prior investments that it and other entities have made for medical education and services. The Rio Grande Valley and El Paso were listed as potential sites.

"We need to press ahead with a medical school in the South Texas region, or we will further shortchange the medical needs of the area and its people," added Sen. Lucio. "It is time we get the process moving."

The bill is now headed to the House for consideration.

Note. Ms. Perla Cavazos, senior policy analyst, handles this legislation for Sen. Lucio, 512-463-0127.

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