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DHR Health’s Robert D. Martínez, MD, to speak during national forum on impact of COVID-19, which will be broadcast through on Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured, from left: Amir Esmaeili, PT, DPT /NDT FAAOMP, DHR Health Aquatic Therapy Institute; Robert D. Martínez, MD, Chief Medical Officer, DHR Health; Carlos Cárdenas, MD, Chair, Board of Managers, DHR Health; Maritza Padilla, Assistant Chief Nursing Officer, DHR Health; Achal P. Patel, MD, Neurosurgeon, DHR Health; and Juan Padilla, MD, Chief of Neuroscience, DHR Health. This image was taken on Thursday, September 26, 2019, immediately following the news conference and grand opening for the DHR Health Aquatic Therapy Institute, located at 2001 South Cynthia Street, Suite E, McAllen.

Photograph Courtesy DHR HEALTH FACEBOOK


DHR Health’s Robert D. Martínez, MD, to speak during a national forum on the impact of COVID-19, which will be broadcast through on Wednesday, October 14, 2020

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Robert D. Martínez, MD, Chief Medical Officer for DHR Health, on Wednesday, October 14, 2020, is scheduled to participate in a national forum on the impact of COVID-19 in Texas, including in the Rio Grande Valley, Congressman Vicente González, D-McAllen, has announced.

Iván Meléndez, MD, the Hidalgo County Texas Health Authority, will join Martínez on a panel of medical experts who will be featured in the virtual town hall meeting. 

A Health Authority is a physician who administers state and local laws relating to public health within a local government’s jurisdiction. Duties include aiding the state with quarantine, sanitation enforcement, public health law enforcement, reportable diseases, vital statistics collection.

The live presentation – which begins at 5 p.m. – and the videotaped version will be accessible online at no charge to viewers through

“During the discussion, members of Congress will be joined by a distinguished panel of medical experts from New York, Texas and California who will talk about the ongoing needs and efforts in their respective districts and address COVID-19 response efforts, treatments, and how to prepare for the future,” said González.

The event is being coordinated by González, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, D-New York City, and John H. Krouse, MD, PhD, MBA, Executive Vice President, Health Affairs, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and Dean, UTRGV School of Medicine.

Other participants on the panel confirmed are:

• Ramón Tallaj, MD, Chairman of the Board of SOMOS Community Care, New York;
• Andrew Phillips, MD, Intensive Care Unit Physician, Fremont, California; and
• Joseph Varon, MD, Cardiovascular & Pulmonary Disease Specialist, Houston.

Martínez and Carlos Cárdenas, MD, Chair, Board of Managers, DHR Health, are among numerous leaders of DHR Health who have maintained a highly-visible media presence in deep South Texas, providing vital information to the public on COVID-19 since March 2020, when the virus first began to affect the United States.

Anchored in southwest Edinburg, with a growing presence in neighboring McAllen, DHR Health offers some of the most comprehensive medical care on the U.S. southern border, with more than 1,400 nurses and 600+ physicians providing care in 70+ specialties and sub-specialties.

DHR Health is the flagship teaching hospital for the UTRGV School of Medicine and encompasses a general acute hospital with the only dedicated women’s hospital south of San Antonio, a rehabilitation hospital, a behavioral hospital, more than 70 clinics Valley-wide, advanced cancer services, the only transplant program in the Rio Grande Valley – and the only functioning 24/7 Level 1 Trauma Center south of San Antonio.

DHR Health is headquartered on a 130-acre site, with most of the facilities in southwest Edinburg but with a growing South Campus immediately across Owassa Road in northwest McAllen.

According to his official biography, Martínez is a member of the Texas Medical Association, American Medical Association, and multiple community organizations. He has served as co-chair of the Ryan Gibson Leukemia Advocate and Research Group, member of the Texas Alzheimer’s Association, and the Texas Workforce Solutions Board of Directors.

Martinez received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and biology from the Southern Methodist University and a Doctor of Medicine from The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where he also completed his internal medicine residency.

Martínez’s expertise and influence in the medical field extend statewide, as he is currently serving on the Texas Medical Board, which consists of 12 physician members and seven public members appointed for six-year terms by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

The Texas Medical Board is a state agency whose mission is to protect and enhance the public’s health, safety and welfare by establishing and maintaining standards of excellence used in regulating the practice of medicine and ensuring quality health care for citizens of Texas through licensure, discipline, and education.

Ramon Tallaj, MD, is the Chairman of the Board of SOMOS Community Care, which he founded in 2015, as the only physician-led performance provider system participating in New York State’s Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment Program (DSRIP). Tallaj oversees SOMOS’ network of nearly 3,500 health care providers and over 650,000 patients from largely underserved communities across New York City, including many Asian and Hispanic immigrants – populations that face unique health challenges.

Tallaj has led numerous health care missions to the Caribbean over the course of his career, including most recently a delegation of SOMOS bilingual network physicians and specialists from New York to Puerto Rico in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane María. The delegation delivered care in remote areas of Puerto Rico that suffered from a lack of adequate care even before the hurricane. Tallaj hails from the Dominican Republic.

Nicholas Andrew Phillips, MD, is a primary care provider established in Fremont, California and his medical specialization is family medicine with more than seven years of experience. He graduated from the University of Texas Medical School at Houston in 2014.

Family practitioners are doctors who have completed a family practice residency and are board-certified, or board-eligible, for this specialty. The scope of their practice includes children and adults of all ages and may include obstetrics and minor surgery.

Joseph Varon, MD is a cardiovascular & pulmonary disease specialist in Houston, who has more than 33 years of experience in the medical field.  He graduated from the National Autonomous University of Mexico medical school in 1987. He is affiliated with medical facilities such as HCA Houston Healthcare Medical Center and Houston Methodist Hospital.  

Pulmonologists treat ailments of the lungs and respiratory systems, such as asthma, pneumonia, tuberculosis, complicated chest infections, and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases including emphysema.


Five nursing professors at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley volunteered during the spring and summer months at the UT Health RGV COVID-19 Patient Call Center in Harlingen, answering calls from frightened people, asking key questions, and processing critical information.

Nurses to the core, they wanted to find a way to respond to the needs of a population hit hard by the pandemic and found that courage and resilience were the orders of the day. 

The nurses are:  

• Luz María Silva, MSN, RN, Clinical Associate Professor, School of Nursing;  

• Velma Huges, MSN, RN, PMHN, Coordinator, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program, Interim Special Assignment Faculty, Clinical Assistant Professor, School of Nursing;  

• Margaret Rubi, MSN, RN, Clinical Assistant Professor, School of Nursing; 

• Dr. Eloísa G. Tamez, RN, FAAN, Professor, School of Nursing, Associate Dean for Student Affairs; and 

• Sharon Helsley-McGinley, MSN, RN, Clinical Associate Professor, School of Nursing.  

At the start of the pandemic, when UT Health RGV opened its COVID-19 testing sites on UTRGV campuses across the Valley, demand to be tested swelled from people who believed they might have contracted the virus. The need for level heads and calm demeanors from the call center staff taking those calls was obvious from the start. 

“In spite of whatever dangerous situations we nurses go into, we don’t stand back, we keep going forward. And that’s been shown all over the nation, how nurses went ahead and served the public because that is the essence of our license,” Tamez said. “Our license to practice is to safeguard the health of the public.”
Rubi said they always tell their students to be stalwart.  

“From the very beginning, we tell them, ‘Do not be afraid, just keep going forward,’” she said. 

It was advice they would themselves follow, as the calls for screening began pouring in. 

Answering the Call

As university professors, they had a chance again to practice nursing through helping at the call center, during a time when they were most needed, Helsley-McGinley said.  

“We got to do assessments and screenings and that made us feel like we were contributing to the COVID battle,” she said. “Things were fluidly changing day to day. We wanted a little participation and control to be part of it, to help our community. And this gave us that venue to be a nurse and be a community member and do something for the common good, at a time when this crisis had so many questions and not many answers.” 

The professors said they were able to address every single call that came into the center in the beginning. However, when cases spiked dramatically and thousands of calls were coming in each day, they struggled to get through each and every call. 

At one point, Rubi said, the call centers were receiving about 10,000 calls a day.  

The calls ranged from fearful parents to worried spouses. Rubi said she had a call from a crying wife who was concerned after her husband was diagnosed. She talked to the caller to calm her down and get information and helped her get an appointment to be tested.  

“So, if you can imagine the frustration – by the time you get to these calls, it’s totally exacerbated. They’re upset, worried, scared. We, as volunteers, have a multirole because we have to calm them down. And as nurses, we’re able at least to help address their symptoms and ask a few more questions about what’s going on with them. It’s really a plus to have us, as nurses, to help them,” she said.  

Silva said that, in the beginning, they noticed they were receiving more calls from frontline workers, like health professionals, EMTs, firefighters, and police officers, who had been exposed to the virus.
They were able to use their nursing knowledge to tell the callers what to do and take note of their symptoms.  

“A Person That I Knew”

Each nurse had a moment when the reality of the pandemic set in. For Helsley-McGinley, it was the moment a former colleague called the center to ask about getting tested.  

“I answered the phone at the call center, and it was actually a fellow nurse. A voice, a person that I knew. And then it hit me,” she said. “I think the disease became very real for me at that moment. This was not impacting anonymous community members. It was impacting our nursing profession.”  

For Huges, getting a call from a fellow nurse she had worked with made her “stand on guard.” As she did when she received a call from a person who delivered pizza to her.  

“The pizza delivery driver called in and said his co-worker tested positive, so now he was going to have to get tested. And I thought, ‘Oh, gosh, I just did a transaction with this person.’ You just start putting pieces together and it’s a normal human instinct,” Huges said. “I had to get tested and I was negative, thankfully. But it was scary.” 

Silva said most of them know someone who has or has had the virus. One person close to her became very ill but recovered. So, she often stresses the importance of taking precautions like washing your hands, wearing a mask, and physical distancing to help mitigate the spread of the virus.  

“I really emphasize people should wash their hands properly. Don’t just rinse them. Get some soap, spend at least 20 seconds washing them really well. And then rinse them,” she said. “Wash your hands frequently, try not to touch your face when you sneeze or cough. Wear a mask in public and keep the distance. That’s my advice.”   

What Does It Mean Being a Nurse?

All five of them will say they are not just nurses, but also educators of future nurses, and also recognize the importance of educating the community.  

Rubi said that, as nurses and educators, they’re equipped to help teach the community. They all carry their licenses, the knowledge and the experience of one of the most trusted professions. 

Huges recalled the sleepless nights, worrying about patients. In nursing school, they teach you to not get close to patients, but it’s difficult to avoid not building a nurse-patient relationship.  

“Being a nurse is not a job, it’s a calling,” Huges said. “And you have to have trust not only yourself and your instincts, but you also need to have the patients trust you and your colleagues. We’re communicators. We’re educators. And we’re compassionate individuals.” 

Helsley-McGinley said 2020 is particularly special for nurses. The World Health Organization designated the year as the “International Year of the Nurse and Nurse Midwife,” and she has seen many positive accolades for nurses, especially during the pandemic.  

“Through COVID, we’ve been escalated to the level of being called heroes, which is humbling. But this is what we were called to do. This is my 40th year as a registered nurse,” she said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else but nursing.” 

For Rubi, being a nurse is many things and she cherishes all that it means.  

“A nurse is the epitome of support, the helper, the advocate. You have to have passion. It’s your everything, to be able to take care of people and to help them to get them better,” she said as tears welled in her eyes. “I am so proud and honored to be part of this phenomenal profession.” 


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.


Jason Johnson and Amanda Alaniz contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (

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