Featured, from left: Alonzo Cantú, Member, Board of Regents, University of Houston System, President and CEO, Cantú Construction, and Member, Board of Managers, DHR Health, with John Sharp, Chancellor, The Texas A&M University System, who also is former Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, on Monday, October 21, 2019. The two-state leaders were participating in Founders’ Day, the first-anniversary celebration of the Texas A&M Higher Education Center at McAllen, 6200 Tres Lagos Boulevard.
PHOTOGRAPH BY NATHANIEL BAEUR
DHR Health, Border Health PAC continue to transform South Texas for the better, Alonzo Cantú tells journalists during media luncheon
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
DHR Health, one of the more prominent hospital systems in Texas, and its influential legislative and policy-making arm, Border Health PAC, continue to empower South Texas for the better, according to Alonzo Cantú of McAllen, who serves on the governing boards of both organizations.
Cantú – who was appointed to the University of Houston System Board of Regents by Gov. Greg Abbott in 2019 for a six-year term – has been credited by many as being a central driving force, as a banker, developer, philanthropist, and dedicated community organizer, behind the remarkable advancements of the business and political landscapes of South Texas, the third fastest-growing metropolitan statistical area in the country.
“I think DHR has done a great job in transforming the Valley if you take a look at all the things we have brought here since we started, that were not here when I was growing up, and even ten years ago,” said Cantú. “It was because local people working together, making a difference, making the other hospitals do what they needed to do that they were not doing.”
Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, Ltd (“DHR”) and its general partner, RGV Med, Inc. (“RGV Med”) own and operate a 519 licensed bed general acute care hospital with over 60 specialties and subspecialties located at 5501 South McColl in Edinburg. The facility is one of the largest physician-owned facilities in the United States that began as an ambulatory surgery center in 1997.
At the same time, Border Health PAC also improves the quality of life for all Valley residents, according to the organization’s stated mission to promote the issues of the medical profession along the border of Texas. To that end, Border Health PAC will support the nomination and election of candidates that seek, through responsible means, to further the mission, goals, and objectives of the medical health profession.
“We learned throughout the process here that politicians listen to two things and two things only: money and votes,” Cantú said. “So, we were able to start the Border Health PAC where we raise a few million dollars a year but we do not give any money unless people come down here and visit and realize we are not a third-world country.”
In the United States, a political action committee (PAC) is a 527 organization that pools campaign contributions from members and donates those funds to campaigns for or against candidates, ballot initiatives, or legislation. At the state level, an organization becomes a PAC according to the state’s election laws.
Cantú shared his observations about DHR Health and Border Health PAC on Saturday, December 19, 2020, during a media appreciation luncheon hosted by leaders with the hospital system at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.
The gathering of about a dozen journalists was coordinated by Marcy Martínez, Director of Public Media Relations & Corporate Communications, DHR Health. All precautions recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, such as wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing, were followed at the gathering.
In addition to Cantú and Martínez, the Saturday, December 19, 2020 luncheon also brought other top leaders with the hospital system, including:
• Carlos Cárdenas, MD, Chair, Board of Managers, DHR Health;
• Marissa Castañeda, Senior Executive Vice President, DHR Health;
• Robert David Martínez, MD, Chief Medical Officer, and Chief Physician Executive, DHR Health;
• Sohail Rao, MD, MA, D.PHIL, Executive Vice President, DHR Health, and President and Chief Executive Officer, DHR Health Institute for Research and Development; and
• Jeffrey Skubic, D.O., M.Sc., Interim Trauma Medical Director, Function Level 1 Trauma, DHR Health.
Cantú said when the ambulatory surgery center began almost 25 years ago, the shared inspirations of its initial founders included “to not have patients from the Valley have to go 350 miles to Houston (but) treat them here. That was the number one goal. The number two goal was to get a medical school down here and get the (biomedical) research started.”
Biomedical research is the area of science devoted to the study of the processes of life, the prevention and treatment of disease, and the genetic and environmental factors related to disease and health.
DHR Health is the flagship teaching hospital for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley 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.
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 headquartered on a 130-acre site, with most of the facilities in southwest Edinburg but with a growing presence in McAllen, including its South Campus located immediately across Owassa Road in northeast McAllen.
“We are like the rest of the state and we want to be treated like the rest of the state. A good example is a medical school. It would not be here if it was not for us pushing and pushing and pushing and have politicians come down here,” Cantú emphasized. “As we all know, the medical school is here, the (medical) residents are here.”
Whereas medical school teaches physicians a broad range of medical knowledge, basic clinical skills, and supervised experience practicing medicine in a variety of fields, medical residency gives in-depth training within a specific branch of medicine, according to Wikipedia.
Cantú and numerous other leaders of DHR Health extensively lobbied state lawmakers and the leadership of the University of Texas System for the creation of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine.
In June 2013, The Texas Legislature approved the creation of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine. Two years later, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine welcomed its first 42 medical residents in hospital-based training programs. The UTRGV School of Medicine received preliminary accreditation from the LCME in October 2015, which allowed the School of Medicine to recruit for its first class.
DHR Health and Border Health PAC’s positive influences on deep South Texas go far beyond medical care, medical education, and public health.
“We have gotten a lot of grants, a lot of appointments (to boards and commissions) at the state level where we were not represented before. We are finally getting funding for education, infrastructure, highways, it all fits,” Cantú continued. “We do a lot of those things that people do not see. It is tied back to DHR. The research we have been able to do, the grants we have gotten, it is all for the benefit of the community, not necessarily just DHR.
“We do different things for the community. You can look at the record. DHR Health is always really involved in social responsibilities, and fundraisers, giving money and making a commitment,” he added.
Cantú said that among the numerous state legislative issues that will be supported by DHR Health and Border Health PAC will be to have the state government qualify many more deserving Texas residents for the state Medicaid program.
“Two words people don’t like to hear: Medicaid expansion,” he said. “Get it into Texas. We have not gotten it since Obamacare. Bring it down here, spend it on healthcare and take care of people and spend money on education.”
Medicaid expansion in Texas, which is supported by the Valley’s three state senators and eight state representatives, will be a major legislative issue during the ongoing 87th Texas Legislature, according to the House Research Organization, which is the research arm of the Texas House of Representatives.
The difference between Medicaid and Medicare is that Medicaid is managed by states and is based on income. Medicare is managed by the federal government and is mainly based on age.
Some states have expanded their Medicaid programs to cover all people with household incomes below a certain level. Others, such as Texas, haven’t.
Medicaid is the state and federal cooperative venture that provides medical coverage to eligible needy persons. The purpose of Medicaid in Texas is to improve the health of people in Texas who might otherwise go without medical care for themselves and their children.
According to the House Research Organization, in its recent publication, “Topics for the 87th Legislature”, published on Friday, January 8, 2021:
• The 87th Texas Legislature could consider proposals to address the uninsured rate in Texas. This could include proposals to expand Medicaid coverage for certain low-income adults, women, and children or to pursue federal waivers and create pilot programs to fund the delivery of health care. Lawmakers also may consider proposals to increase access to telehealth in rural and underserved areas, strengthen consumer protections in health insurance, and implement immunization protocols for distributing COVID-19 vaccines.
• Texas’ Section 1115 Medicaid waiver, which is a federal waiver under the Social Security Act that provides states more flexibility in designing Medicaid programs, expires September 30, 2022. The 87th Legislature could discuss renewing the 1115 waiver, which includes two funding pools (uncompensated care and the Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment, or DSRIP, program) providing billions of dollars in supplemental funding to hospitals and health care providers. Because the federal share of the DSRIP will expire in 2021 and uncompensated care pools will phase out by 2022, lawmakers could discuss alternative payment models for hospitals and providers.
• On November 10, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in California v. Texas to determine the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) minimum-coverage provision and whether it is severable from the rest of the ACA. Depending on the outcome, the Legislature could seek to modify minimum standards for health insurance coverage and consumer protections under the ACA.
• Legislators could consider proposals to change Texas’ Medicaid program by expanding Medicaid under the ACA, pursuing a block grant, or creating pilot programs to increase access to direct primary care. Other proposals may include maintaining or increasing provider reimbursement rates, extending Medicaid post-partum coverage from 60 days to 12 months, and developing value-based payment models in Medicaid managed care. Proposals could emerge to increase oversight of pharmacy benefit managers’ administration of prescription drug benefits in Medicaid managed care.
(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 (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).