Senator Lucio's Letterhead

CAPITOL UPDATE FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 25, 2008
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez , Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0385

A Top Legislative Priority Will Be South Texas Medical School

A top legislative priority of mine since I began public service has been to increase the health care and education infrastructure of South Texas.

That is why I authored Senate Bill 606 in the mid 1990s to establish our Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) in the Rio Grande Valley. Additionally, that is why for the last 10 years I have fought tirelessly to continue increasing our state's support and resources to strengthen our RAHC.

Working together with our Valley delegation, local officials, and medical community and education leaders has proven invaluable toward this endeavor.

During this coming 2009 Legislative Session, as Chairman of the International Relations and Trade Committee, I will fight to implement the recommendations in our forthcoming interim report of converting our RAHC into a medical school.

Complementing our effort, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) in their upcoming study, "Projecting the Need for Medical Education in Texas," is reporting that although more Hispanics are graduating from medical school, those increases have not kept pace with the Hispanic population growth in the state.

The Texas Comptroller reported earlier this year that South Texas is 81 percent Hispanic and relatively young compared to the state, which implies a greater demand for educational services.

Because of the high Hispanic concentration in our area, the THECB's findings and recommendations should not be taken lightly, especially the following compelling recommendation: "If the Legislature is able to fully support the existing commitments in the state and decides to establish an additional medical school in Texas, the South Texas region remains a feasible location."

The THECB study further reveals that while 35.7 percent of the 2007 general population in Texas was Hispanic, only 11.6 percent of the first-year medical school students and 10.8 percent of active primary care physicians were Hispanic, far below their non-Hispanic counterparts

We cannot encourage our youth along the border to pursue careers in the health fields if we deny them access to medical education. The time is right and we have the studies and experts to justify such an endeavor.

While the need for both medical and law schools in our area is great, the need for more physicians and other health practitioners is greater and continues to grow. To worsen matters, physicians are aging and their retirement will leave a greater void in our area's health care system that is already so troubled.

And it isn't just doctors who are aging. In South Texas, our population age 65 or older is expected to increase by 68.9 percent from 2000 to 2020, creating more and different health care demands. Additional strains on our health care system originate from doctor-to-patient ratios, especially in South Texas where the number of physicians per 100,000 residents is 57, compared to the state's average of 70 or above in urban areas.

We are making inroads into expanding health care services in our region. The RAHC now provides the academic medical infrastructure needed to help recruit and retain physicians. New residency programs in pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology and surgery are under full consideration. We are building the foundation that can produce a full medical program.

As the Coordinating Board reported that with a medical program in the Valley "students from the local and surrounding communities would have greater opportunities to attend medical school and would likely remain or return to the area to practice."

We could achieve our two-fold goal: offer medical education opportunities to South Texans and increase the number of physicians/medical professionals in one of the poorest and most underserved regions of the country.

We're on the right pathway to a full-fledged medical school, and our regional collaboration will ensure that we finalize this endeavor.

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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