RAHC expansion is ‘a commitment to the people of the Valley’

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Residents at the RAHC pose with Dr. William Henrich, dean of the School of Medicine. The residents will conduct their rotations in the new building.

Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president of the Health Science Center, told Lower Rio Grande Valley leaders July 17 that the Regional Academic Health Center’s second Harlingen building, currently under construction, represents “a firm and enduring commitment by the Health Science Center to the people of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, chief among them our veterans.”

The new $25.5 million building will be called The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio Regional Academic Health Center Teaching/Learning Lab. Construction began in February on a site adjacent to the first Harlingen RAHC building, located at 2102 Treasure Hills Blvd. The two buildings are on 18.6 acres of land.

The Teaching/Learning Lab will be a major patient care and clinical research center with 79,000 square feet on two floors. The South Texas Veterans Health Care System has entered into a contract with the Health Science Center to move its Harlingen clinical care into 34,000 square feet of space on the first floor. This will be known as the Harlingen Veterans Healthcare Center.

It will provide another unique clinical setting where residents of the RAHC can cultivate their skills, Dr. Cigarroa said. Rotation sites currently include the Valley Baptist Health System, Su Clinica Familiar and private physician clinics throughout the Valley.

“The residents we train at the new Harlingen Veterans Healthcare Center will be uniquely qualified to understand the conditions and needs of veterans and respond with appropriate care,” Dr. Cigarroa said. “This new endeavor perfectly matches our mission in the Valley, which is to educate and train physicians and other health care professionals for the Valley who are sensitive to the region’s unique health care needs. Our goal ultimately is to improve the health and well-being of everyone in the South Texas Border Region. The new building also enables us to enter a new and exciting chapter in our partnership with the South Texas Veterans Health Care System.”

Jose R. Coronado, F.A.C.H.E., director of the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, said the new space will enable the System to expand its offerings to Valley veterans and will decrease the amount of trips veterans must make to San Antonio for specialty care. The move to the larger clinic will enable expanded primary care, mental health, eye care, women’s health and social work services, and the addition of in-house audiology, dental, pharmacy, clinical laboratory, physical therapy, prosthetics, radiology and additional specialty services, Coronado said.

“It will provide outstanding training opportunities,” said William L. Henrich, M.D., M.A.C.P., dean of the Health Science Center School of Medicine, which oversees the RAHC Medical Education Division in Harlingen and the recently dedicated Medical Research Division in Edinburg. “The new Center adds a whole dimension of patients with the unique experiences a veteran has. RAHC residents will get a combination of experience, not only medical but also pertaining to the social and practical aspects of caring for veterans. For example, they will learn the VA’s medical record systems. All of that is very good experience for our residents.”

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The new building in Harlingen is expected to be complete by August 2007.

Miguel Islas, M.D., third-year internal medicine resident at the RAHC, said: “Having established rotations through the new Center is an excellent opportunity for our program to continue to diversify our patient population. The cultural mixture and the wide array of illnesses presented will continue to prepare us as internists. Also, the faculty who oversee our rotations are excellent teachers, always open to input from residents.”

Dr. Cigarroa said the new Center “should be to the Harlingen RAHC what the Audie Murphy Hospital Division of the South Texas Veterans Health Care System is to the Health Science Center in San Antonio. It is a very good partnership between an academic health institution and a veterans system – a partnership that has been in place in San Antonio for more than 30 years with great success.”

The Teaching/Learning Lab is entirely funded by tuition revenue bonds approved during the 77th session of the Texas Legislature. “The passage of the bill in 2003 was absolutely historic for the Health Science Center and the Valley,” Dr. Cigarroa said. “I want to thank all our Rio Grande Valley legislators, especially The Honorable Eddie Lucio, for their commitment to the RAHC and for securing the necessary tuition revenue bonding authority to construct this facility to benefit the people of the Rio Grande Valley. The greatest way to help the people of the Valley is to improve the quality of their health. Our legislators recognized this, and as a result made this new building possible.”

Tuition revenue bonds also funded the construction of the first RAHC building in Harlingen, which opened in June 2002. That building cost $25 million and is 94,000 square feet, with particular emphasis on educational space.

In addition to the Harlingen Veterans Healthcare Center, the new Teaching/Learning Lab will include significant space for clinical research faculty who will develop Valley-based programs in diabetes, infectious diseases, cancer, aging, cardiovascular disease and other topics most relevant to the people of the Valley.

With its masonry with stucco and cast stone accents and its mission clay tile roof, the Teaching/Learning Lab is designed to match the first Harlingen RAHC building. Like other buildings containing U.S. veterans health care facilities, it will have a generous covered driveway for patient access and ample parking.

The general contractor is SpawGlass Contractors Inc. of Harlingen. The architectural firm is FKP Architects Inc. of Houston. The project is expected to be completed by August 2007.



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