The Area Health Education Centers program is an ongoing project that will provide free health care to Cameron County residents, regardless of economic status.
Cameron County and UTRGV collaborated to establish the program at the Bob Clark Social Services Center at 9901 California Rd. in rural Cameron County. Eventually, additional centers will be created in Starr and Hidalgo counties.
These three centers will provide identical general health care, but they will be designed to accommodate the growing needs of each community they serve.
“We will adapt the health-care model to fit the needs of the community,” said John Ronnau, UTRGV School of Medicine senior associate dean for Interprofessional Education. “In some areas, maybe there is a greater need for women’s health programs, or for heart disease prevention programs. The basic components will be the same, but each model will be built to meet the needs of the community.”
Cameron County Pct. 1 Commissioner Sofia Benavides said the county and UTRGV collaborated at Ronnau’s request. After scouting locations, it was decided that the Bob Clark Social Services Center would be ideal for the clinic, due to its close proximity to the Women, Infants and Children program office.
Implementation of the program will cost about $500,000 per center.
The federal government will provide the centers with $250,000 per year for a span of five years. UTRGV also received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, as a result of the partnerships between the university’s School of Medicine and College of Health Affairs.
The program seeks to promote health education, as well as make primary health care easily accessible to the community.
With the help of the program, Cameron County residents will be able to receive free prescriptions, examinations and diagnoses. Recipients of the treatment will not be charged and are not required to have insurance or IDs.
Each of the centers will be staffed by a doctor, a physician assistant or a nurse practitioner.
“We will be serving people in areas that are underserved, rural underserved areas, which is part of HERSA’s requirements,” Ronnau said.
This program will allow a variety of students in disciplines such as medicine, nursing, social work and nutrition to enroll for two years to learn and work through HERSA to earn the AHEC Scholar distinction.
The clinic gives medical students the opportunity to complete their required clinical curriculum. Additionally, it gives them real-world experience and introduces them to the growing opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley.
“[The students] who have insurance and who have those resources available to them get to see and associate with those patients who don’t have the means to get proper health care,” Benavides said. “They understand more what their patients’ challenges are.”
Services at the Cameron County center are set to begin in September 2018, while services in Starr and Hidalgo counties are in the planning stages.