In a partnership with the County of Hidalgo, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valle School of Medicine announced that a newly developed Area Health Education Center (AHEC) will be housed in San Carlos., centers will also open in Cameron and Starr counties.
Dr. John Ronnau, UTRGV School of Medicine senior associate dean for Interprofessional Education, said the grant – which will allocate $750,000 per year for five years – is intended to help increase access to primary healthcare in rural and underserved areas; develop and enhance education and training networks within communities, academic institutions and community-based organizations; and teach medical and students in other health-related disciplines about the social determinants of health and health disparities
“The beneficiaries are the low income areas,” said Joseph Palacios, Precinct 4 Commissioner, who serves the San Carlos community. “The clear benefit of this grant is for residents that don’t have access to care where it is severely lacking.”
“Each center will have a community-based governing or advisory board that reflects the diversity of the communities involved,” Ronnau said.
The grant will allow the School of Medicine to establish primary healthcare clinics in three AHECS, which will be operated by the professional healthcare staff, faculty and students of the UTRGV College of Health Affairs and the School of Medicine, Ronnau said. The School of Medicine and the College of Health Affairs will develop curriculum for students that will include offering credit for their work in the clinic, and will develop a pipeline program through which high school students interested in healthcare-related fields can receive training.
Ronnau said the School of Medicine’s strong partnerships with the College of Health Affairs, other colleges and departments within UTRGV, Cameron, Hidalgo, and Starr counties’ local health clinics, regional community colleges, and regional medical high schools, made the grant possible.
“Through the good work of the School of Medicine and College of Health Affairs and our community partners, we got the attention of federal grantors,” Ronnau said. “Hopefully, this is a foot in the door for future funding.”
The Area Health Education Centers Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The five-year grant will develop and enhance education and training within communities, academic institutions and community-based organizations in Hidalgo, Cameron and Starr counties.
School of Medicine representatives said the program will increase diversity among health professionals, enhance health care quality, and improve health care delivery to rural and underserved areas.