TMA Border Health Conference Tackles Medicine’s Most Pressing Issues
By Emma Freer

As physician advocates, policymakers, and community leaders gathered in Harlingen for the Texas Medical Association’s annual Border Health Conference, the wide-ranging agenda included many of medicine’s priority issues along the Texas-Mexico border. 

Those issues include shoring up the Texas’ physician workforce shortage, addressing nonmedical drivers of health, expanding broadband access, and identifying and curbing human trafficking, all of which are especially acute along the Texas border, federally designated as both a Health Professional Shortage and a Medically Underserved area.  

TMA President Rick Snyder said the region’s physicians are well equipped to meet these challenges. 

“I really wish I could bottle up the passion in this room and distribute it across Texas and the country,” he told conference attendees on Aug. 18. “You are the people who get it done.” 

As one example of that passion, TMA’s Border Health Caucus chair Luis Urrea, MD, touted local physicians’ role in the 2003 passage of Texas’ landmark tort reforms, which remain critical to the state’s medicine-friendly reputation. 

Several physician panelists spoke of building on this victory in other areas to develop the physician workforce from within the Texas border region and encourage economic investment. 

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso has an annual economic impact of more than $700 million statewide, including via job creation, Manuel de la Rosa, MD, shared in his presentation. He is a pediatrician and vice president for outreach and community engagement for the school. 

“That’s an economy,” he said. “That drives the economy.” 

And given residents’ awareness of local issues, such as the prevalence of colonias and the influx of migrants, “this is exactly where we need to have our students,” said Adela Valdez, MD. The conference speaker is associate dean of diversity, inclusion, and health equity and of continuing medical education at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. 

Despite the harrowing subject matter of human trafficking, El Paso infectious disease specialist Gilbert Handal, MD, emphasized the positive role medical professionals can play in disrupting such crimes. He led a CME course how to recognize human trafficking. 

“That’s why this work is so important, because they have their whole life ahead of them, those kids,” he said. 

Among the border region’s older population, on the other hand, Harlingen family physician Sheila Magoon, MD, discussed how loneliness is a common nonmedical driver of health – and health care spending. She is a member of TMA’s Committee on Medicaid, CHIP, and the Uninsured. Her accountable care organization, Buena Vida y Salud, developed a senior buddy pilot program and hopes to expand its reach.  

Additional speakers included policymakers U.S. Rep. Vincente Gonzalez Jr. (D-Brownsville) and state Rep. Elizabeth Campos (D-San Antonio); community leaders representing nonprofits and health information exchanges; and government officials representing the Texas Broadband Development Office and Cameron County Public Health, among others. 

Representative Gonzalez was one of many speakers who emphasized the border region’s binational identity and close ties to its Mexican counterparts.  

“That diversity is really our strength,” he said. “We create more dynamic and impactful solutions because we think in a broader sense.”  

At the close of the conference, Dr. Snyder, a cardiologist in Dallas, reinforced the opportunity for medicine’s collaboration in several areas including:  

  • Working with private enterprises and Mexican state governments to address shared concerns; 
  • Increasing involvement of medical students in organized medicine; and  
  • Harnessing broadband expansion to improve health care access and outcomes.  

“I heard several things that I know we can take action on – and soon,” he said.  

Get more information on TMA’s activities regarding border health, and future TMA events.

Last Updated On

August 28, 2023

Originally Published On

August 28, 2023

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Border Health | Public Health | Workforce

Emma Freer

Associate Editor

(512) 370-1383

Emma Freer is a reporter for Texas Medicine. She previously worked in local news, covering city politics, economic development, and public health. A native Clevelander, she graduated from Columbia Journalism School and the University of St. Andrews.

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