FEATURED: Sohail Rao, MD, MA, DPhil, President and CEO, DHR Health Institute for Research & Development, was presented with a legislative resolution, authored by Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen. “Through his vision, leadership, and dedication, Dr. Rao has contributed significantly to the well-being of countless Rio Grande Valley residents during a historic public health crisis, and in so doing, he has earned the deep respect and appreciation of all who are privileged to know him,” said Guerra, who serves as Vice Chair, House Committee on Public Health.
Photograph Courtesy DHR HEALTH FACEBOOK
DHR Health’s Sohail Rao, MD, honored for contributing “significantly to the well-being of countless Rio Grande Valley residents during a historic health crisis,” says Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
In South Texas’ more than two year battle against COVID-19, there are literally thousands of unnamed heroes and heroines in the region’s healthcare system to be publicly recognized on an individual basis for their skills, determination, and courage in fighting this dangerous and deadly disease.
Physicians, nurses, pharmacists, scientists, medical/clinical lab technicians, and many other professional and paraprofessional experts continue to play vital roles in treating victims of COVID.
But that doesn’t mean the Texas Legislature is not taking notice of those medical and health care experts on the front lines of the this pandemic, which is an outbreak of a disease that has spread across several countries or continents.
State lawmakers are giving credit where credit is due, and one of those individuals in the Valley who has been honored is Sohail Rao, MD, MA, DPhil, President and CEO, DHR Health Institute for Research & Development.
“Dr. Sohail Rao has greatly benefited Rio Grande Valley residents through his tireless efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, who authored a Texas House of Representatives resolution as a tribute to Rao.
A resolution is a formal expression of recognition, opinion, or decision, other than a proposed law, that may be offered for approval to one or both chambers of the Texas Legislature by a member of the House of Representatives or Senate.
“Through his vision, leadership, and dedication, Dr. Rao has contributed significantly to the well-being of countless Rio Grande Valley residents during a historic public health crisis, and in so doing, he has earned the deep respect and appreciation of all who are privileged to know him,” added Guerra, who serves as Vice Chair, House Committee on Public Health.
The DHR Health Institute for Research and Development, which was established as a nonprofit 501(c)3 entity organized under the Federal Internal Revenue Service code 501 (c)(3). The primary objective of DHR Health Institute for Research & Development is to serve as an independent research institute with a focus on enhancing translational and clinical research in critical areas of need through collaboration with investigators at DHR Health and other affiliated academic and non-academic partners.
As part of its mission, DHR Health Institute for Research & Development is also committed to providing access to innovative and advanced clinical care models for physicians for the treatment of patients and to facilitate development of “personalized” clinical care models for Hispanic population in the Valley. It is envisioned that this will also minimize the disruption in personal lives of our patients who have to travel to another center to gain access to a clinical trial, which could be offered here in the Valley.
Guerra, who represents House District 41 in Hidalgo County, praised Rao as “an esteemed immunologist and gifted administrator (who has) has been instrumental in the establishment of the institute and in building fruitful partnerships with academic and nonacademic institutions and businesses to enhance clinical research in the region.”
Immunologists are doctors who diagnose, treat, and work to prevent immune system disorders.
Throughout the pandemic, he has continued to fulfill his duties while adapting to the significant challenges posed by COVID-19,” Guerra proclaimed.
As part of his professional duties, Rao has become a visible public figure, making himself available to provide expert advice to the public through extensive news coverage in deep South Texas.
Hundreds of thousands of Valley residents have seen him, read about him, and heard him through the mainstream media, as well as through social media outlets.
From March 18, 2021 through May 19, 2022, examples of the print and broadcast stories generated on behalf of the public, in which he was featured or included, are the following press coverage:
• DHR Health Breast Center of Health selected to lead statewide cancer study • The Monitor, May 19, 2022;
• “They give up themselves” – Amid nursing shortage, DHR Health honors long-serving healthcare workers – The Monitor, March 5, 2022;
• Driscoll Children’s Hospital looking to hire ahead of opening of new facility – The Monitor, March 2, 2022;
• “Catalyst for change” – DHR, Region One partner to promote medical careers amid nursing shortage – The Monitor, February 27, 2022;
• First in line – FDA grants DHR Health permission to administer fourth doses of COVID vaccine – The Monitor, February 8, 2022;
• Edinburg’s DHR Health receives FDA approval to offer 4th dose of Pfizer vaccine – KRGV-TV, February 7, 2022;
• Edinburg’s DHR Health receives FDA approval to offer 4th dose of Pfizer vaccine – KGBT-TV, February 7, 2022;
• DHR Health offering monoclonal antibody for immunocompromised – KRGV-TV, January 28, 2022;
• Long-acting Antibody Treatment vs. Omicron Variant in Patients with Compromised Immune System – Mega Doctor News, January 26, 2022;
• “This is the best immolate after vaccination”/DHR initiates new study to prevent COVID-19 – KRGV-TV, December 17, 2021;
• New therapy to protect vulnerable Valley patients now available – The Monitor, December 25, 2021;
• High-risk patients receiving new treatment at DHR Health in Edinburg – KRGV-TV, December 24, 2021;
• DHR Health to initiate stud for COVID-19 prevention – The Monitor, December 16, 2021;
• Boosting protection/Health officials press for vaccine safeguards against omicron variant – The Monitor, November 30, 2021;
• RGV students attend research conference at DHR Health – The Monitor, November 25, 2021;
• Hundreds of Gear-Up Students Attend Research Conference at DHR Health – MegaDoctor News, November 22, 2021;
• DHR Health to begin cancer trials – The Monitor, November 11, 2021;
• New study shows polyclonal antibodies could help fight and eliminate COVID-19 – FOX South Texas News • October 27, 2021;
• DHR Health involved in new COVID- treatment study – KGBT-TV, October 26, 2021;
• DHR Health takes part in new COVID-19 antibody treatment study – KRGV-TV, October 26, 2021;
• DHR Health announces new breast cancer studies for the Rio Grande Valley – KGBT-TV, October 13, 2021;
• DHR Health is working to offer better options for breast cancer treatment and screenings • KRGV-TV, October 12, 2021;
• Valley doctor says minimal, infected levels of antibodies are normal – KRGV-TV, September 23, 2021;
• Valley health experts push for vaccinations as Mu COVID variant detected in Hidalgo County • KRGV-TV, September 13, 2021;
• DHR launches study aimed at preventing COVID-19 – The Monitor, September 3, 2021
• Monoclonal Antibody Infusion Treatment site comes to DHR Health – KGBT-TV, August 27, 2021;
• New antibody treatment available to COVID-19 patients in the Valley – KRGV-TV, August 19, 2021;
• DHR to require COVID-19 vaccines for employees – The Monitor, August 19, 2021;
• DHR Health offering COVID booster shots – The Monitor, August 15, 2021;
• “A time bomb ticking” /Valley health authorities measure delta variant’s deadlines, transmissibility – The Monitor, August 1, 2021;
• Rise in variant COVID-19 cases prompts change in treatment – The Monitor, April 24, 2021;
• Experts say vaccines crucial to getting ahead fo COVID-19, variants – KRGV-TV, April 22, 2021;
• DHR Health launches study for oral COVID treatment – The Monitor, April 2, 2021;
• DHR unveils mobile unit to help treat COVID-19 patients – Rio Grande Guardian, March 20, 2021; and
• DHR Health: ‘Research on wheels’, innovative COVID-19 treatments
• The KVEO-TV, March 18, 2021.
A brief summary of Rao’s professional credentials includes the following achievements:
• Rao was previously employed by CHRISTUS Health as Chief Academic Officer and System Vice President for Research and Academics, as well as Executive Director of the CHRISTUS Institute for
Innovation & Advanced Clinical Care.
Christus Health, headquartered in Irving, Texas, is an international Catholic, faith-based, not-for-profit health system comprising almost 350 services and facilities, including more than 60 hospitals and long-term care facilities, 175 clinics and outpatient centers and dozens of other health ministries and ventures.
• Before moving to Texas, he was Vice President for Research at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, Louisiana, and served as Deputy Head of Schools Research for Ochsner Clinical School, University of Queensland, as well as Vice President of Ochsner International.
Ochsner Health System is a not-for-profit health system based in the New Orleans metropolitan area of southeast Louisiana, United States. Its flagship hospital, Ochsner Medical Center, has been ranked the number one hospital in Louisiana for the past decade.
• His more than four decades of experience guiding research teams further includes a stint at University of South Florida Health, where he was Senior Associate Vice President, Chief Research Officer, Chief Operating Officer of the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute, and a Professor of Surgery and Molecular Medicine.
USF Health is the partnership of the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Public Health, the College of Pharmacy, the School of Biomedical Sciences and the School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences, and USF Health’s multispecialty physicians group. USF Health is an integral part of the University of South Florida, a high-impact, global research university dedicated to student success.
He is the author of more than 160 research articles and book chapters; and
He began his distinguished career at the University of Pittsburgh, Drexel University, and Middle Tennessee State University.
DHR HEALTH BREAST CENTER OF EXCELLENCE, CANCER RESEARCH CENTER AT DHR HEALTH INSTITUTE FOR RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT, SELECTED TO LEAD STATEWIDE CANCER STUDY
The Breast Center of Excellence at DHR Health and the Cancer Research Center at DHR Health Institute for Research and Development have been selected to lead an innovative breast cancer study – WISDOM (Women Informed to Screen Depending on Measure of risk).
The overall study is funded by the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute and the National Cancer Institute and local funding will support the DHR Health launch under the direction of Dr. Lisa Chapa, a board-certified surgeon and breast cancer oncologist at DHR Health.
This study aims to recruit women of diverse backgrounds across Texas.
“Despite advances in the past three decades, breast cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer deaths for women in the United States,” said Chapa, Director, DHR Health Breast Center of Excellence. “The incidence of breast cancer in women of Hispanic ethnicity is higher than in general population, and it is vital to involve minorities in this trailblazing longitudinal study. We are pleased that we will be working with the WISDOM team of investigators and community groups to offer this opportunity that we are the sole site, and will be offering this opportunity to all women in the State of Texas.”
“Having a standard for risk assessment with tailored screening recommendations for all women will be an important step forward in reducing these cancer disparities,” said Sohail Rao, MD, MA, DPhil, President and Chief Executive Officer, DHR Health Institute for Research & Development.
“To maximize the impact of this clinical study and to benefit all women in Texas, we will be seeking funding from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) in the Prevention and Early Detection program.”
“Most women spend 30 to 35 years getting breast screenings,” said Laura Esserman, MD, a University of California San Francisco professor of surgery and radiology and the national principal investigator of this study. “So, we recommend that women in Texas join the WISDOM study and spend the next five years helping us create a better future where we can learn how best to target both screening and prevention. Now, more than ever it’s important for women to understand their personal risk and to know how often they should screen.”
To join this landmark study, visit JOIN WISDOM STUDY or call (956)362-2367 or email [email protected].
About DHR Health
Anchored in southwest Edinburg on a 130-acre site, with a growing presence in neighboring McAllen, Rio Grande City, Mission, and Brownsville, 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 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 24/7 Level 1 Trauma Center south of San Antonio.
On Tuesday, November 16, 2021, Driscoll Health System, in partnership with DHR Health, held a groundbreaking ceremony for Driscoll Children’s Hospital Rio Grande Valley, located at 2820 W. Michelangelo Drive in Edinburg, which is being built on the site of the DHR Health campus, next to DHR Health’s The Women’s Hospital at Renaissance.
The new, independently operated, eight-level pediatric hospital will further the mission of Driscoll Children’s Hospital founder Clara Driscoll to provide medical care to all the children of South Texas. The building is expected to be completed in Spring 2023.
The facility represents a combined investment of more than $105 million. Driscoll Children’s Hospital Rio Grande Valley will operate with more than 500 employees, creating significant economic impact and new job opportunities for clinical, ancillary and support staff in the Valley.
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 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.
UT SYSTEM’S DAVID LAKEY, MD, APPOINTED TO NATIONAL COMMISSION TO IMPROVE U.S. PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEM
Dr. David Lakey, MD, The University of Texas System’s Chief Medical Officer and Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, on Wednesday, April 13, 2022, was appointed to a new non-partisan commission charged with reimagining a stronger health care system at every level of government.
The Commonwealth Fund – a private foundation that has been dedicated to improving the U.S. health infrastructure since 1918 – recently created the Commission on a National Public Health System in response to the challenges faced by the nation’s decentralized health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lakey, an expert in infectious diseases and the state’s former health commissioner, will join other prominent thought leaders and health care experts from around the nation to engage in ways to streamline and improve U.S. health care.
By early summer 2022, the commission is expected to recommend key strategies for restructuring federal, state and local public health systems to more effectively address the nation’s most pressing public health needs.
“We’ve seen the COVID-19 pandemic strain every level of the public health and health care delivery systems in the U.S., and it revealed a devastating gap in our ability to provide a coordinated response including the caring for people when they needed it most,” Lakey said. “This is a significant opportunity for real life-saving changes that will impact preparedness and equity for future health crises.”
Throughout the pandemic, Lakey has served as advisor to Gov. Gregg Abbott and was also a member of Texas’ Vaccine Allocation Panel.
Before joining the UT System, Lakey was the Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services from January 2007 to February 2015. He also has served on federal public health advisory committees for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Defense Health Board.
Currently he’s a member of the March of Dimes Board of Trustees and the Trust for America’s Health Board of Directors.
“The University of Texas System and the state of Texas have long benefited from Dr. Lakey’s expertise and commitment to public health, and now the nation will too,” said Dr. John Zerwas, M.D., Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, the University of Texas System. “Now is the time to leverage the lessons learned from the pandemic so that our nation is better prepared to respond to the next health care crisis.”
Dr. Margaret Hamburg, former Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is serving as chair of the Commission.
The other members include:
• Mandy Cohen, MD, MPH, former Secretary, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services;
• Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, M.Sc., Chief Health Officer, Google;
• Joneigh Khaldun, MD, MPH, Vice President and Chief Equity Officer, CVS Health;
• Ellen MacKenzie, PhD, ScM., Dean, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health;
• Herminia Palacio, MD, MPH., President and CEO, Guttmacher Institute; and
• Nirav Shah, MD, MPH, Senior Scholar, Department of Medicine, Stanford University.
For more information, visit the website:
Commonwealth Fund Commission on a National Public Health System.
About The University of Texas System
For more than 130 years, The University of Texas System has been committed to improving the lives of Texans and people all over the world through education, research and health care.
With 13 institutions, an enrollment of more than 243,000 students and an operating budget of $23.4 billion (FY 2022), the UT System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States.
UT institutions produce more than 67,000 graduates annually and award more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and more than half of its medical degrees. Collectively, UT-owned and affiliated hospitals and clinics accounted for more than 8.6 million outpatient visits and almost 1.8 million hospital days in 2020.
UT institutions also are among the most innovative in the world, collectively ranking No. 4 for most U.S. patents granted in 2020, and the UT System is No. 1 in Texas and No. 2 in the nation in federal research expenditures.
The UT System also is one of the largest employers in Texas, with more than 21,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates and members of the National Academies – and more than 85,000 health care professionals, researchers and support staff.
Marcy Martínez and Karen Adler 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 (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).