McAllen Mayor Jim Darling says a plan where McAllen would buy and donate land to the University of Texas System for medical education programs does not compete with Edinburg’s hopes for its own UT medical school presence.
On Monday, December 16, The Monitor in McAllen reported that Darling and McAllen City Manager Mike Pérez were reviewing the possibility of their city buying an almost 36-acre property near Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg, but located within the McAllen city limits.
“Imagine the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley building the new medical school in McAllen, near Doctors Hospital at Renaissance,” Dave Hendricks, a top reporter for The Monitor, wrote. “McAllen would offer the land to (the University of Texas System) for the new university’s medical school.”
However, on Wednesday, December 18, the McAllen mayor emphasized that any such offer is not intended to threaten preliminary plans by the UT System to set up the first two years of medical education programs in Edinburg, by the newly-renamed University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley campus (formerly UT-Pan American).
“Whatever is going to happen in Edinburg, the building and research, is great. We are 100 percent in support of that,” said Darling, who also serves as general counsel for Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. “But if you look at the clinical research, that’s patient-driven. That will be at DHR, south McAllen, in Edinburg, and places like that. The bulk will be where the residency programs are, and that’s DHR.”
Clinical research is research that directly involves a particular person or group of people, or that uses materials from humans, such as their behavior or samples of their tissue, according to the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Once a student finishes the first four years of medical education, they begin their medical residencies, where they are trained in their specialties, which range from family medicine to surgery and beyond. Medical residencies, which often take an additional three to five years, depending on their specialty, usually take place in hospitals or major clinics.
The McAllen mayor’s comments came during the first-ever joint public meeting of the McAllen City Commission and the Pharr City Commission, which took place on Wednesday, December 18, beginning at noon, in the Pharr City Commission chambers at Pharr City Hall.
Darling reassured Edinburg residents that the any proposal by McAllen to land a major component of the planned University of Texas medical school would benefit Edinburg and nearby Pharr.
“We (the McAllen city limits) are across the street from Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, and there is some land there,” the McAllen mayor noted. “If we can find a niche for that, that’s fine. We think it compliments what is happening in Edinburg. By no stretch of the imagination do we think it’s competitive. We would hope that the people in Edinburg feel that way too.”
In explaining his strategies to his Pharr counterparts, Darling emphasized his belief that Edinburg would retain a major presence of the planned UT medical school, and agreed with such a move by the UT System Board of Regents.
“It’s shaping up. Obviously, the first and second year are going to be at (UT) Pan-American (renamed UT-Rio Grande Valley by the UT System Board of Regents),” Darling said. “That portion is going to be in Edinburg absolutely, and rightfully so. I think we look for opportunities for us.”
The McAllen mayor noted that Doctors Hospital at Renaissance is one of the few medical centers in South Texas positioned to play a vital role in the medical residency needs of the planned UT medical school.
“There are not a lot of hospitals that can and will participate in this, so it has fallen on DHR to provide for most of the residency programs for (the four-county Rio Grande Valley) to a certain extent,” Darling observed. “There are huge opportunities there, with family practice and internal medicine (medical residency programs).”
Although the land being eyed by McAllen is not within the Pharr or Edinburg city limits, Darling told Pharr city leaders that if his vision becomes reality, Pharr should prepare in anticipation of the positive impact it would have on their community.
“I think it’s going to happen, and I think it’s going to happen relatively quickly. When I say quickly, I’m saying five to 10 years is quickly. That goes pretty fast as a mayor,” Darling predicted. “So, we want to make sure you’re connected with that, and be part of that. I know you don’t own the land over there, but you may thinking from the standpoint of future development.”
Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, the largest physician-owned facility in the U.S., is also one of the largest employers in Edinburg, with several thousand medical and health care professionals and support staff on its payroll. Anchored by a 530-bed general acute care hospital in southwest Edinburg, it borders the McAllen city limits.
“As we look into other opportunities we would like to share those with you, connect you with the people from Doctor’s Hospital and let you what their plans are so you can see what your niche is in that,” Darling told the Pharr City Commission.
Under legislation approved last spring by the Texas Legislature, the University of Texas System was directed to build a regional UT medical school which would feature the first two years of academic education in Hidalgo County, feature the third- and fourth-years of academic education in Cameron County, and require those students to take their medical residencies in the four-county Rio Grande Valley.
On Thursday, November 14, the UT System Board of Regents authorized the spending of $124 million to build a $70 million Science Building at the UT-Rio Grande Valley campus in Edinburg, and to construct a $54 million UT medical school academic building next to UT-RGV Edinburg.
That November 14 announcement represented the first official confirmation that Edinburg would be home to a major component of the planned UT medical school for the Valley.
The UT medical school building will be built by Schunior Street, immediately north of the UT Regional Academic Health Medical Research Facility, in Edinburg.
The Science Building is vital since it will provide the academic skills, equipment, and laboratories to prepare UTPA students to attend and succeed in the planned UT medical school in Edinburg, scheduled to open in Summer/Fall 2016.
The planned construction of the UT medical school in the Valley, which will be part of the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, was influenced by the successful lobbying efforts during the past year before the UT System and the Texas Legislature by the Edinburg City Council and its jobs-creation arm, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.
The legislation, Senate Bill 24, was authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and sponsored by Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownville.
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, were among the joint authors of SB 24.
Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Robert “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, were House cosponsors of SB 24.