VISTA Summit: Collaboration, Innovation Essential to Improve the Region
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – NOVEMBER 28, 2012 – The Rio Grande Valley needs to have an urgency to improve health care, which can better the quality of life for individuals and cities.
The VISTA Summit: Health took place Wednesday, Nov. 28 at The University of Texas – Pan American in Edinburg. Also hosting the day-long conference was The University of Texas System and The University of Texas at Brownsville.
“This is an important time in the history of the Rio Grande Valley and its people,” said UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa. “We have an opportunity to seize the momentum and make a difference in the lives of our children and grandchildren not only in the next few years but in the generations to come.”
The region’s major health crises – diabetes and obesity – are roughly a $20 billion a year problem. Diabetes and obesity are tied to several other health issues including liver disease, blindness and amputations.
“The definition of normal shifts if 80 percent of the people are overweight,” said Dr. Rose Gowen, a Brownsville City Commissioner and Doctor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Su Clinica Familiar in Brownsville. “A patient who needs healthy eating and activity is going into the population and are perceived as normal weight.”
Dr. Juliet V. García, President of The University of Texas at Brownsville, said the region’s universities have been successful in readying students for medical school programs. But, geography has been a challenge in attracting specialized health care professionals to practice here.
“We have an extraordinary opportunity before us,” said García. “We have a living laboratory right here in the Rio Grande Valley to see how quickly, efficiently and effectively we can ramp up health education and develop programs that can benefit us all over the nation.”
García highlighted the UTeach Brownsville program, which began at the university this academic year. Forty-eight mathematics and science students were recruited for the program, which is a partnership between the College of Education and the College of Science, Mathematics and Technology. The program is financed in large part by a $500,000 grant from the Greater Texas Foundation.
“At UTB we are in the process of redefining our version of higher education by creating an innovative model for 21st Century education,” said García.
Gowen said several initiatives in Brownsville are working to get people more active including community health and wellness activities and developing and maintaining hiking and biking trails. She said work must continue to tie education and economic development together to improve livelihoods.
Sanjuana Zavala, 21, a senior biology major and member of the Circle K International Club at the university, spoke on the mid-afternoon panel “What can I do to Improve Health in the Valley?”
Zavala’s solution is to serve as a role model citizen and student. In the Circle K International Club she has led an effort to recycle broken crayons, melt them down and create large shapes and letters for pre-school children to color with at local daycare centers. Zavala traveled in late September to Washington, D.C. to attend a ceremony at the White House honoring her and other Kiwanis International members as “Champions of Change.”
Zavala cited community involvement for helping her fulfill a summer internship under Gowen, which helped her figure out her career path.
“Engage in community event because it really makes a lot of difference,” said Zavala. “Without the internships and mentorships through health, I could not have found out what I wanted to do I want to pursue public health as a graduate student after graduation.”
The first Vista Summit was held in October 2011 in Brownsville. At that time local, state and national leaders gathered for two days to discuss partnerships and how to transform the region’s education, economic development, health care and philanthropy.
“What we all shared in common was that economic transformation can and will take place in South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley,” said Cigarroa.
To follow up from the main conference, the Vista Summit: Education was held in April at UTPA. The UT System plans to have a future Vista Summit meeting on community prosperity.
“It’s going to take all of us working seamlessly together to understand the urgent need in a way that allows us to plan forward over the next five to 10 years together,” said García. “It is more effective to work together. I think this is the beginning of a conversation and not the end.”