Senator Lucio's Letterhead

OP-ED FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 16, 2007
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez , Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0385

South Texas Needs Professional Schools

Except for the Irma Rangel School of Pharmacy at Texas A&M University in Kingsville, South Texas has no other professional schools. It is a serious concern that needs to be addressed now or we will continue to shortchange the region.

The five-county area of Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy and Starr has seen a population growth of 39.4 percent from 1990 to 2000, compared to the state's of 22.8 percent for that same time period. Many South Texans aspire to obtain professional licenses and degrees, but their financial situations prevent them from leaving home to study elsewhere.

A professional school would draw from a big pool of qualified applicants. Studies show that border college students tend to study closer to home; about three in four enroll in local universities. And local graduates would also have a higher tendency to stay and practice where they live, thus curbing the "brain drain" we suffer from.

South Texas has been improving its higher education infrastructure since a 1987 lawsuit drew the attention of state leaders from outside the border to the lack of funding for graduate and undergraduate degree programs. We have seen an increase in Master's degree programs, Ph.D.s and of course, the implementation of the pharmacy school. But we still lack professional institutions, like a medical and law school.

To address these needs, I have proposed two bills this legislative session. Senate Bill 420 lays the foundation for a free-standing medical facility that would be called the University of Texas Health Science Center—Rio Grande Valley. Establishing the UTHSCRGV, a system to include a medical school and many health-related degree programs, will increase access to health care and supply a labor pool for jobs that are already becoming hard to fill. The current labor force can't keep up with the health care needs of a burgeoning population, many of them experiencing serious illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and others.

The Brownsville Herald reported in a May 6 article this year that according to state labor projections, by 2014 employment at public and private hospitals will have increased 44 percent and jobs at physicians' offices by 46 percent over 2004 levels in Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties. The story verified that hospital administrators agree our population growth is the main driver for the increasing number of health care jobs in the Valley.

The UTHSCRGV would serve Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Willacy, Brooks, Jim Hogg, Kenedy and Zapata counties, which would expand health related services and provide a wide range of employment opportunities.

The counties designated for service by the health science center have been classified as "Medically Underserved Areas" by the Department of State Health Services. A medical school would help recruit doctors to improve the underserved area. Also, it is known that medical students from underserved areas are more likely to stay and practice in those areas.

Under my proposal, research and training facilities would 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. The primary goal for the upcoming sessions is to obtain the necessary funding to establish and expand such a health system. Currently, there are eight medical schools in other areas of Texas, with the southernmost in San Antonio.

Developing these facilities would increase the availability of physicians culturally sensitive to the area's population. Fewer miscommunication problems occur when health care providers understand and are educated to work with the cultural composition of the population.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's 2002 study on new medical schools designated the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso as potential sites for a new medical school. SB 420 passed in the full Senate but is awaiting House approval.

The other bill I filed (Senate Bill 1400) would establish the first public law school in South Texas at U.T. Brownsville. In 2002, the Coordinating Board determined that South Texas is the region of the state with the greatest need for a law school. It is also underrepresented for Texas attorneys. On average, there is one attorney for every 328 people. Cameron County has an attorney to population ratio of 1:788 and Hidalgo County of 1:821, more than twice the state average.

With the success of programs such as the Pharmacy School and the RAHC, it is evident that South Texans have a strong desire to pursue professional degrees for the betterment of the area. I welcome support from the community and the media so that our voices ring loud in Austin. 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.

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