FEATURED: Dr. Luis “Louie” G. Alamia, PT, DPT, poses with his daughter, Serenity, on Thursday, September 22, 2022, at Richard Flores Stadium in Edinburg. Alamia serves as Member, Place 4, Board of Trustees, Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District.
Photograph By JUAN ZAMORA
Edinburg school board approves agreement with Driscoll Health Plan to help parents prevent and treat behavioral, emotional and developmental problems of children at risk, reports Edinburg school board trustee Dr. Luis “Louie” G. Alamia
The Triple P–Positive Parenting Program®, which is an internationally implemented system to promote the development of nonviolent, protective environments for children ages 0 through 17, and to help parents/caretakers raise their loved ones, has been approved for families served by the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District, according to Dr. Luis “Louie” G. Alamia, PT, DPT.
Triple–P, as it is usually referred – is made available to the school district for qualifying parents or caretakers – at no local cost to taxpayers – through a partnership with Driscoll Health Plan.
Driscoll Health Plan is a nonprofit, community-based insurance plan offering health care coverage to the communities of South Texas. Its insurance products includes STAR Medicaid, STAR Kids, CHIP and CHIP Perinatal.
Driscoll Health Plan is part of the Driscoll Health System, which includes Driscoll Children’s Hospital that has served the children of South Texas for more than 65 years.
On Tuesday, December 13, 2022, the Edinburg school board unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding, on behalf of the school district, with Driscoll Health Plan to receive the resources provided through Parent Seminars.
A Memorandum of Understanding is an agreement between two or more parties outlined in a formal document. It is not legally binding but signals the willingness of parties to move forward with a contract.
“Triple–Phas been show to prevent and treat behavioral, emotional and developmental problems in children by improving the knowledge, skills and confidence of parents, according to the explanation provided by our school district administrators and Driscoll Health experts,” said Alamia. “Triple-P, which has been proved effective for decades in some of the largest school districts in America, achieves these goals through a strength-based and self-reflective approach that builds on existing parenting skills.
“The flexibility and scope of the system enables it to be offered in a variety of setting with diverse range of practitioners and populations,” he added.
Alamia said the idea of the program was brought to Edinburg school district leaders by Ambrosio Hernández, MD, Member, Board of Managers, DHR Health, Chief Compliance Office, DHR Health, and Medical Director of Surgical Services at Driscoll Children’s Speciality Center-McAllen, with additional expert advice from Matt Wolthoff, President, Driscoll Children’s Hospital Rio Grande Valley.
Hernández also serves as mayor of the City of Pharr.
“Both Mayor Dr. Hernández and President Wolthoff are dedicated to providing the highest level of healthcare to South Texas, especially for our children and adolescents, and that includes providing parents with the ideas and strategies that work so parents and caretakers can build a stronger bond for their families and raise happy and confident youngsters,” said Alamia. “We owe these two Valley leaders our thanks for bring their vision on behalf of our young people to the Edinburg school district.”
Alamia also gave credit to other members of the “Driscoll Health Plan leadership team who facilitated this effort: Craig Smith, CEO; Victoria Morales, Director of Marketing and Communications; Rose Santos, Manager of Community Outreach; and Delia Garza, Community Outreach Coordinator.”
Discussions between ECISD and the Driscoll Health Plan had been taking place since September 2022, but the program will actually start in mid-January 2023, according to Wolthoff.
“Triple-P is open to any parent/caretaker in the school district. Each class can accommodate 25 families with 2 caregivers per family. We are offering two rounds of classes for each of the two age groups (0-12 and teens),” he added. “Driscoll Health Plan and ECISD will evaluate the program at the end of the year and determine the best plan for the following year.”
The health plan covers the entire cost of the curriculum and materials, he noted.
“There is no cost to families for participating in the classes,” Wolthoff emphasized.
In South Texas,Triple-P “is currently being offered with the IDEA school system, Dr. Bose Community Centers in Alton and Donna, and with ECISD. Elsewhere in South Texas, Triple-P is being made available through Driscoll Health Plan at Robstown ISD, Port Aransas ISD, Victoria ISD, and with the Amistad Federally Qualified Health Clinic.
Driscoll Health Plan Members also have access to Triple-P classes offered throughout the year.
For additional information about the Triple P – Positive Parenting Program®, the public and the news media may contact Dr. Karl Serrao-Driscoll, Health Plan Chief Medical Officer, at 361-694-6136 or through email at:
On Tuesday, November 16, 2021, Driscoll Health System 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 ultra-modern, eight-story medical complex is a freestanding designated Children’s Hospital, the first of its kind in the Rio Grande Valley.
“Located on The DHR Health campus through a lease agreement, Driscoll Children’s Hospital Rio Grande Valley will be an independent freestanding designated children’s hospital, the eighth in the State of Texas and first of its’ kind in the Rio Grande Valley. The hospital will further enhance the vision of our founder Clara Driscoll to ensure all children in south Texas have access to high quality healthcare.”
The building is expected to be complete by late Spring of 2023, with the first patient being seen by the end of the year.
The Driscoll Children’s Hospital Rio Grande Valley 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.
DHR Health was the original 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 as of September 8, 2021, the first 24/7 Designated Level One Trauma Center south of San Antonio.
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.
Other key highlights of the The Triple P – Positive Parenting Program® system offered to the Edinburg school district include the following strategies and duties, according to the Memorandum of Understanding:
Parents or caregivers with children/teens ages 0 through 17 years, interested in general information about promoting their child’s development. The series of seminars can also assist parents with specific concerns about their child’s behavior or development.
Parents are likely to benefit if their family is not complicated by significant behavior problems or family stress. This intervention can also be useful as an introduction to the Triple P strategies for families who will access a more intensive intervention.
Driscoll Health Plan will:
• Cover costs for program rights, licensing and materials for Triple P-Positive Parenting Program. Cover cost for training and provide trained skilled based accredited Triple P practitioners.
• Provide 2 instructors to lead seminars
Each seminar consists of three topics each taking 60 minutes to present plus 30 (thirty) minutes for question time. Total time per seminar: 1.5 (one point five hours.
Seminar 1: Topic: Positive Parenting;
Seminar 2: Topic: Raising Confident Competent Children; and
Seminar 3: Topic: Raising Resilient Children
Seminar 1: Topic: Raising Responsible Teenagers;
Seminar 2: Topic: Raising Competent Teenagers; and
Seminar 3: Topic: Getting Teenagers Connected.
• Provide all materials to conduct seminars including seminar tip sheets or families.
1x Seminar Tip Sheet Per Seminar Place.
Provide incentive per family for attending each session.
$10 gift card per family, per session; and
Limited to a maximum of $30.00 x family.
• Driscoll Health Plan will acknowledge collaborating organization in Triple P Program promotions as program hosts.
To include but not limited to written or verbal promotions of program, such as Social Media, Flyers, Media releases.
Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District will:
• Enter into agreement with Driscoll Health Plan for September 2022 thru May 2022 school year.
Assign a district Point of Contact (POC) to lead the program at organization; and
Driscoll Health Plan Outreach Representatives will make contact for logistics.
• Provide meeting space.
25 (Twenty five) families (2 adults per family max);
Tables and chairs et up in classroom style;
IT Point of Contact day of Seminar;
Screen, Microphone, Projector, Computer; and
2 Tables (6 feet or 8 feet) indie classroom for Driscoll use during seminar.
• District Point of Contact will identify parents whom they feel would benefit for program and make internal arrangements for them to attend class.
Register parents; and
Send reminders for each session.
• To ensure success of parenting program completion, child care arrangements may be available at the district’s discretion. This is a recommendation, however, not a required element.
• Sponsorship – End of Year
Below criteria must be met to qualify:
One parent/caregiver or two parent/caregivers equals one family;
Parent/caregiver with children/teens up to 17 years of age; and
Goal: Twenty five families per seminar.
Email Sign-In Sheet for each seminar to Driscoll Health Plan representative; and
Submit Final Count of Participants for Sponsorship Payment.
Period of Performance
The period of performance for this Memorandum of Understanding is September 2022 – May 2023. The agreement may be cancelled by mutual agreement by both parties with 30 days advance written notice of the termination date.
The persons listed below will serve as the partnership officers to coordinate the activities of each organization carrying out the Memorandum of Understanding:
Delia A. Garza
Driscoll Health Plan
Driscoll Health Plan
Sandra A. Rodríguez
Dr. Mario H. Salinas
TELEHEALTH THERAPY PROGRAM AT UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS RIO GRANDE VALLEY EXPANDS WITH $6 MILLION IN STATE FUNDING TO SERVE REGION ONE STUDENTS
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry is expanding a telehealth program that addresses the regional and state need for more mental health providers for children and teens.
Telehealth – sometimes called telemedicine – allows a health care provider care for a patient without an in-person office visit. Telehealth is done primarily online with Internet access of a patient’s computer, tablet or smart phone.
There are several options for telehealth care:
• A patient talks to the health care provider live over the phone or video chat;
• A patient sends and receives messages from a health care provider using secure messaging, email, and secure file exchange; and
• A patient uses remote monitoring so that a health care provider can check on them at home. For example, a patient may use a device to gather vital signs at home to help a health care provider stay informed on the patient’s progress.
Dr. Karl Goodkin, MD, DFAPA, Professor and Chair of the UTRGV School of Medicine’s psychiatry department, said access to mental healthcare for children and youth across the state is sparse at best, making these programs critical interventions.
“There are areas in Texas that have no child or adolescent psychiatrist available,” he said. “And patients can face up to a year’s wait before they’re able to be seen.”
The United States long has faced a shortage of mental health professionals.
According to a 2018 study published by staff at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University, the psychiatry workforce faces a shortage through 2024 of between 14,280 and 31,091 psychiatrists, depending on the psychiatrist-to-population ratio.
In the Rio Grande Valley, an estimated 34 full-time psychiatrists are required to meet the needs of the four counties (Hidalgo, Cameron, Starr and Willacy).
In 2020, Hidalgo County had 23 psychiatrists, Cameron had 20, Starr had one psychiatrist, and Willacy County had none.
“The beauty of this program is that if we have children referred to us, they will be screened and we can look at the medication component,” Goodkin said. “And a master’s level therapist can recommend psychoneurological testing for clarification of a diagnosis.”
A neuropsychological evaluation, also called neuropsychological testing, is an in-depth assessment of skills and abilities linked to brain function. The evaluation measures such areas as attention, problem solving, memory, language, I.Q., visual-spatial skills, academic skills, and social-emotional functioning.
Reaching Students in Need
Since 2021, UTRGV School of Medicine has participated in a statewide initiative called Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine, or TCHATT, which aims to bridge the gap for underserved children by providing telehealth therapy services in a private, in-school setting. UTRGV’s service area began with the Region One Education Service Center.
UTRGV’s psychiatry department within just two years expanded its TCHATT service area, from initially serving nine school districts, and expanding services to 19 school districts with 193 campuses and 135,084 students.
The program is actively onboarding 10 school districts of 127 campuses, serving an additional 71,666 students.
In her role as interim chair of the UTRGV School of Medicine’s psychiatry department, Dr. Diana Chapa received funding for the continuation and expansion of the program.
“Our goal is to provide services in the rest of the ISDs and charter schools in our region by the next academic year,” Chapa said.
According to the TCHATT website, UTRGV’s TCHATT program is planning to serve an additional 45 school districts, which means 288 campuses with 137,954 students.
With the planned schools included, 34,4704 children will be able to access therapy and mental health assessments for free through 608 schools in 74 school districts.
Chapa said 12 universities across the state participate in TCHATT, and all of them have committed to contacting every public and charter school in Texas by September 2023 to offer the TCHATT program.
Expansion of Services
With an additional $6 million in funding from the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium (TCMHCC), the UTRGV School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry is also increasing the number of therapy sessions and types of services available to students.
The new funding will allow them to expand screenings and psychological testing by offering neuropsychological testing when needed.
“We look at brain function and try to identify some diagnosis that can be supported by clinical information,” Chapa said.
The disorders include ADHD, cognitive limitations, autism, dyslexia, and dysgraphia.
Additionally, TCHATT therapists will be able to provide twice as many therapy sessions to the students referred to the program, she said.
“The initial core funding was for four sessions, and now we can provide eight,” she said. “That will give them more time to work with students and to help stabilize them and will allow more time to find resources to continue their care.
The UTRGV School of Medicine is currently training 19 psychiatry residents, who will graduate over the next four years. Over the course of their studies, they will serve as TCHATT therapists – under the supervision of SOM faculty who also provide free therapy sessions to children via computer or iPad in a confidential space in their respective schools.
Chapa said the schools have been very eager for the program, which is free to the schools and the families of the students – from the psychologists and psychiatrists’ time to installing the technology at the schools if needed.
“The schools struggle to help some of their students, who are struggling, when they don’t have the resources,” Chapa said.
Through TCHATT, UTRGV mental health clinicians – psychologists, psychologists and licensed professional counselors – step in to provide expert therapy for students who are struggling, and they connect the family with lower-cost options for medication when appropriate.
“We form that bond with the students,” Chapa said. “We’ve heard they feel relief – knowing there’s someone who wants to help them, someone they can talk to.”
She said schools not yet participating in the program should consider the need for the students for this additional supportive intervention.
“TCHATT can be an adjunct to the school counselors in supporting and meeting students’ mental health needs. We can work along other programs you have in place to serve more students,” she said. “Every school that wants us, we will be there.”
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, 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.
Karen Villarreal 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).