UTRGV officials update Regents on School of Medicine

EDINBURG — One year into the inauguration of the awaited School of Medicine, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley officials presented its progress to the UT Regents for the first time.

“All and all we are very pleased with how things are going,” UTRGV President Guy Bailey said. “What’s been particularly gratifying is that even as we build our entering cohorts we’ve continued to expand our GME (Graduate Medical Education), our residencies.”

The UT System board held a regular board meeting last week attended by Bailey and the School of Medicine Interim Dean Steven Lieberman, who conducted the presentation to the board.

In 2012 the board of regents allocated $10 million from Permanent University Funds for the School of Medicine for the next 10 years, and in 2013 Senate Bill 24 called for its creation.

“We are truly a four-mission medical school,” Dr. Lieberman said during his presentation. “We are starting with a population health lens looking at the major problems of health in the Valley… by recruiting researchers, developing residency programs, in the education piece, building clinical programs around them to provide care in the Valley that is not currently available.”

The School of Medicine welcomed its inaugural class of 55 students in 2016, 20 from the Valley, and this week they announced a cohort of 50 prospective students who might join the school in August.

In its initial year the university received more than 2,700 applications for the School of Medicine, and this second year officials reviewed 3,950 applications and conducted 320 interviews.

As mentioned by Bailey the number of graduate residency programs has also increased. In 2016 the university had 100 residents, six programs, four specialties and partnerships with three hospitals. This year there are 140 residents, nine programs, six specialties and five partnerships.

“There are others in the drawing board and in planning stages and we expect this number to continue to grow substantially year by year for the foreseeable future,” Lieberman.

As far as funding, new research opportunities such as those at the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute and now the upcoming Neuroscience Institute, attract external funding.

In the Fiscal Year 2015 the outside funds totaled $7 million and in FY 2016 it was $22.7 million.

There have also been more philanthropic donations, Bailey said, which have help create some of these programs, such as the recent $15 million donation by the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation to create the Neuroscience Institute.

“We are making a lot of progress,” Bailey said. “If we are able to maintain that level of philanthropic giving and even increase it, it will have a huge impact on what we are able to accomplish.”

The university is still battling some of issues with local funding such as that of collecting previously promised funds by the city of McAllen.

Several cities signed memorandums of understanding with UTRGV, promising funds for the School of Medicine on a yearly basis from 2014 to 2023. McAllen promised $2million, Edinburg agreed to $1 million, Pharr to $500,000 and Mission to $250,000.

The city of Mission was the first to break the understanding in 2015 as its Mayor Beto Salinas said he didn’t agree with funds being tied to a healthcare district, which failed for the second time in 2016.

McAllen had already given an initial $2 million in 2014, but the second contribution is still being debated by city officials.

“Hidalgo County, Edinburg and Pharr have all been terrific, we think McAllen might come through as well; they haven’t yet, but we are optimistic about that,” Bailey said.

As far as what to expect for the School of Medicine’s second year, Bailey said they are still in need to hire more faculty and staff for some of the growing programs. The university filed for an exception with the state for the entire school due to a statewide hiring freeze.

But Bailey said part of their focus will also have to develop a practice plan for the physicians, which allows them to continue their practice while teaching.

This will also involve opening outpatient clinics near the hospitals hosting residency programs. The plan is to have at least three clinics, one in Edinburg, one in Brownsville and one in McAllen, said Rick Anderson, executive vice president of finance.

During the meeting, the university received the green light from the regents to move forward with the purchase of a building in Edinburg, one mile away from Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, which will be outfitted as an outpatient clinic.

“We’ll be looking at a number of clinical outreach locations for the school of medicine and that will be both in Hidalgo County and Cameron County,” Anderson said. “Next week we are looking at space in the Brownsville area.”

dperez-hernandez@themonitor.com