EDITORIAL: Higher level: Health care in Valley continues to improve

Ten years ago — in April 2009 — New Yorker magazine published an article that proclaimed health care in the Rio Grande Valley to be among the worst in the country.

The article’s author, Dr. Atul Gawande, who himself is a physician, noted that especially with regard to Medicare, Valley medical costs were among the highest in the nation, second only to Miami.

However, the level of care in the Valley was low; incorrect or unnecessary tests were frequent, while many kinds of treatment were hard to access or not available at all.

A shortage of medical professionals in the region was severe and chronic.

Fortunately, the Valley has taken major steps forward. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley now has a full-fledged medical school here producing medical professionals, many of whom, it is hoped, will stay in the area once they complete their residencies.

The medical school operates a mobile clinic that takes health care to rural areas that haven’t had access to basic care. It even was dispatched to the Houston area to aid flooding victims a couple of years ago.

Just how far we’ve come in the past decade became clear last week when officials at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance said they expect a visit soon from members of the American College of Surgeons for evaluation that could lead to the center’s trauma center in Edinburg attaining Level I status, the highest possible rating.

The designation officially comes from the Texas Department of State Health Services, and certified by the ACS.

Level I means DHR offers 24-hour care and access to doctors who can perform both general and specialized procedures such as cardiac, orthopedic, microvascular and neurosurgery, among others.

The center must already be functioning as a Level I center before it can be evaluated, and DHR already provides that level of care.

Certification would make DHR the first official Level I trauma center in South Texas; McAllen Medical Center recently achieved Level II status, joining Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen at that level of care.

Such progress is a major accomplishment for the Valley. It means many local residents no longer face an hours-long ambulance or helicopter ride to Houston or San Antonio for certain medical procedures that previously weren’t available here.

The Level I center also gives DHS, which is a major benefactor and partner with UTRGV’s medical program, a top-tier facility where medical students can learn advanced and specialized medical procedures firsthand.

These major steps are impressive, especially within 10 short years.

We applaud the managers and staff at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance for the work and dedication that had enabled the facility to reach impressive achievements in a short time.

They inspire confidence that the level of medical care for Valley residents will continue to improve.

The Valley Morning Star