Featured, front row, from left: Victoria Cantú, Member, Board of Trustees, South Texas College; Jesús “Jesse” Vela, Jr., Member, Board of Trustees, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District; Gov. Greg Abbott; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Wanda Garza, Executive Officer for External Affairs, South Texas College; and Ambrosio Hernández, MD, Mayor of Pharr and Chief Medical Compliance Officer, DHR Health, as he looks on following the Tuesday, September 18, 2018 grand opening and building dedication of the South Texas College Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence in Pharr.
Photograph By BENJAMIN BRIONES
Gov. Abbott among powerful legislative voices in support of DHR Health’s efforts to bring Level I Trauma Center(s) resources to deep South Texas
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
With momentum continuing to build for securing state funding for a Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center(s) in the Rio Grande Valley, the region’s top legislative leaders have support for that life-saving measure from the highest elected state officeholder in Texas.
Gov. Greg Abbott, in a letter addressed earlier this fall to the Rio Grande Valley state legislative delegation, has promised to use his powerful influence in the Texas Legislature and elsewhere to help secure state money to establish at least one Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center in one of the largest metropolitan areas of Texas.
“A Level I trauma center would strengthen the healthcare network in times of disaster, and it would also serve as a needed resource to the 1.5 million people who call the Rio Grande Valley home,” Abbott stated in his letter, dated September 26, 2018. “This is why I fully support efforts to establish this goal.”
In general, a trauma center is a hospital equipped and staffed to provide care for patients suffering from major traumatic injuries such as falls, motor vehicle collisions, or gunshot wounds.
A Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center is a wide-ranging regional resource that is a tertiary care facility central to the trauma system. A Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center is capable of providing total care for every aspect of injury.
“Having access to a Level I trauma center is a critical component of disaster response and preparedness,” Abbott further stated. “During my travels around the state, I have heard from many Texans about the importance of the trauma system and the need to strengthen it. The reasons differ as to why the network should be strengthened, but there seems to be consensus that enhancements are needed. These issues should be included in discussions as Texas prepares for further disasters.”
Carlos Cárdenas, MD, Chairman, Board of Directors, DHR Health, said the governor’s public commitment is welcomed news for what is one of the top state legislative priorities for the Valley this upcoming regular session, which begins in early January 2019.
“Gov. Abbott’s promise to help us carries great weight in the Texas Legislature for many reasons, not the least that he has a very important say in where and when state resources are invested,” said Cárdenas. “He is the leader of the Texas Republican Party, and the majority of the Texas Legislature is Republican, so they certainly will want to help him make good on his word. In addition, Gov. Abbott is a proven friend of deep South Texas. As Sen. (Juan) Hinojosa (D-McAllen) has pointed out, Gov. Abbott has visited the Valley more than all other governors combined.”
Hinojosa has made that observation about Abbott at least twice this fall, when the governor spoke Thursday, October 25, 2018, during the ribbon-cutting of the $40 million Texas A&M McAllen Higher Education Center, and when Abbott participated in the Tuesday, September 18, 2018 dedication of Phase I of a $71 million master plan revolving around the South Texas College Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence in Pharr.
The governor’s correspondence was sent by him to Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Rep. Óscar Longoria, D-La Joya; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownville; Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville; Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco; Rep. René Oliveira; D-Brownsville; and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.
After a long career in the Legislature – he was first elected in 1981 and currently ranks fifth in overall seniority of the 150 members of the Texas House of Representatives – Oliveira is finishing his final two-year term. When the 86th Texas Legislature convenes on Tuesday, January 8, 2019, he will be succeeded by Rep.-elect Alex Domínguez, who currently serves as Cameron County Commissioner Precinct 2.
Cárdenas, Raúl Barreda, Jr., MD, Trauma Medical Director for the Level III Trauma Center at DHR Health, and Robert D. Martínez, MD, Chief Medical Officer/Chief Physician Executive, DHR Health, have been the more visible figures in the ongoing state legislative campaign for a Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center for the Valley.
Barreda explained that Abbott’s endorsement on behalf of a Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center in the Rio Grande Valley elevates the prominence of that issue.
“By specifically naming the Valley, Gov. Abbott has significantly justified the need for such a resource, and
with thousands of House and Senate bills that are filed every session, he will help make sure this measure is not let in the legislative process,” Barreda said.
Martínez said DHR Health’s leadership also credits the Valley’s top elected officials for their support.
“We have one of the more powerful state legislative delegations in history that has taken on this cause, and we also are blessed to have secured the important combined political support from our county commissioners courts and growing number of city councils/city commissions in the Valley,” Martínez said. “We look forward, at the wise direction of our state legislators, to working with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), who is the presumptive Speaker of the House.”
DHR HEALTH HELPING LEAD STATEWIDE EFFORTS FOR TRAUMA CARE
DHR Health, which is one of the premier private hospital systems in Texas, has been helping lead efforts statewide to convince the Texas Legislature, which returns to the State Capitol in Austin in early January 2019 for its 140-day regular session, to increase state funding needed for such an advanced medical resource in the Valley.
Money is proposed to come from the Hurricane Harvey Supplemental Funding Package to create a grant program, administered by the Texas Department of State Health Services, that would give trauma providers the needed resources to invest in strengthening the trauma network statewide.
DHR Health’s push for state funding also would benefit the Trauma Network in the State of Texas, which is made up of 288 designated trauma hospitals, first responders, and emergency medical service providers.
The Trauma Network in the State of Texas is comprised of 22 regions and includes 18 Level I Comprehensive Trauma Centers, 21 Level II Major Trauma Centers, 56 Level III Advanced Trauma Centers, and 193 Level IV Basic Trauma Centers.
RIO GRANDE VALLEY NEEDS A LEVEL I COMPREHENSIVE TRAUMA CENTER
There is no Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center in the Rio Grande Valley, which is a major metropolitan area, even though much smaller population centers in Texas have such life-saving resources, according to Barreda, Jr., MD.
“Tyler, with a 300,000 population, has a Level I and Level II trauma center. Killeen-Temple, with a combined population of 400,000, has a Level I and Level II trauma center. Lubbock, with 300,000 residents, has a Level I and Level II trauma center, and an additional Level II center. We (Hidalgo County) have a population of 850,000 people and are without a Level I trauma center.”
According to the most recent figures by the U.S. Census Bureau, as of July 2017 – more than one year ago – the estimated population of the Rio Grande Valley was 1,370,424 (Hidalgo County: 860,661; Cameron County: 423,725; Starr County: 64,454; and Willacy County: 21,584).
Like the Houston region, the four-county Rio Grande Valley and the counties along or near the Gulf Coast north of the Valley and north and west of Corpus Christi, each year face the real possibility of significant threats to life and property due to tropical storms, hurricanes, and other inclement weather events.
“Tyler, Killeen-Temple and Lubbock are not along the Texas Gulf Coast,” Barreda continued. “Why do we not have a Level I center in Hidalgo County?”
Barreda’s observations came on Tuesday, September 25, 2018, when he, Martinez, and Cárdenas Chairman addressed the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court during its public meeting in Edinburg.
In response to Barreda’s, Martínez’ and Cárdenas’ appearance and presentations, the county judge and county commissioners approved a Hidalgo County resolution endorsing efforts by DHR Health leaders, by the region’s state legislative delegation, and a growing list of other elected governing bodies and private organizations, for a Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center(s) for the Rio Grande Valley, and for improved statewide trauma preparedness.
Barreda noted that the need for a Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center(s) for the Rio Grande Valley is based on high and unbiased standards set by the American College of Surgeons, a prestigious nationwide institution that, among its many duties, verifies the resources available at a hospital trauma center.
“The American College of Surgeons recommends a Level I and Level II trauma center for every million people in population. Trauma centers become verified by the American College of Surgeons to make sure they are filling out criteria, protocol, and that they save lives,” Barreda explained. “Nothing there is political, everything is merit-based. If you are good and you do a good enough job, and you have the facilities, then you earn it.”
HURRICANE HARVEY’S NEAR-STRIKE TO VALLEY
“With that (near-strike by Hurricane Harvey), we must be more aggressive in obtaining our funds,” Barreda said. “These funds are to make the trauma centers in Texas unified and equal. That way, if one goes down, the other ones can pick up the slack, and it is like fingers acting on a hand. We need that so they all work together.”
It is the threat of weather disasters such as Hurricane Harvey that also justifies the need for a Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center(s), and not just for the benefit of the Rio Grande Valley.
“The Trauma Network identified glaring holes after Hurricane Ike (in September 2008) hit the Houston area. They said, ‘You need to do this, you need to do this, you need to do this.’ They shored everything up,” Barreda reported. “When (Hurricane) Harvey hit (in 2017), there were three Level 1 trauma centers and four Level II trauma centers in Galveston and Houston, a significant improvement from when Hurricane Ike hit the region a few years prior. During Hurricane Ike, the Level I trauma center at The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and at Ben Taub Hospital in Houston were flooded. The trauma network in the greater Houston area was overwhelmed and they could not care for the people that needed it done. Due to the investments made and despite the catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Harvey, the Houston trauma network was not overwhelmed.
“For those reasons, the American College of Surgeons and the Trauma Network is recommending these actions take place preventively before the next disaster hits, especially shoring up the Gulf Coast – the Rio Grande Valley and the Corpus Christi area,” Barreda said. “If we are hit in these areas, we are cut off from everything else, with no help.”
Martínez said the region’s state lawmakers understand the importance of upgrading the state’s trauma center capabilities.
“This issue is especially of interest to the Rio Grande Valley delegation given our location along the Gulf Coast. Of the top nine most populated regions in the state, only the Rio Grande Valley lacks a Level I trauma center,” Martínez quoted the lawmakers’ letter to the governor. “While the Rio Grande Valley was spared the worst of Hurricane Harvey, the next big storm could hit our area. We owe it to our constituents to be ready and make the necessary investments in our trauma system before disaster strikes. Strengthening our network by providing funding for critical infrastructure and increased capacity would save many additional lives.”
“OUR CAUSE IS RIGHT AND JUST”
DHR Health’s Martínez praised the growing list of elected governing bodies in the Rio Grande Valley that already have thrown their support behind the legislative effort that would lead to a Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center(s) in the region.
“The Cameron County Commissioners Court, the Starr County Commissioners Court, and the Willacy County Commissioners Court, in addition to the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, have approved respective resolutions in support of this undertaking, which has become one of the major state priorities for deep South Texas for the upcoming regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature,” said Martínez.
Currently, the cities of Alamo, Brownsville, Edinburg, Elsa, Hidalgo, McAllen, Mercedes, Mission, Pharr, San Benito, San Juan, and Weslaco have passed resolutions supporting state investments to strengthen the Texas trauma network.
“We are in an excellent position to succeed, not only because we have an outstanding state legislative delegation and because all of Texas stands to benefit, but because our cause is right and just,” Martínez said.
For more information, please contact Roberto Haddad, Vice President and Counsel for Government Affairs and Policy at DHR Health, or Jesse Ozuna, Government Affairs Officer at DHR Health, at 956/362-7165. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature.