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UTRGV’s Dr. Leonel Vela recognized for his role in expanding healthcare access in rural communities

Dr. Leonel Vela (at left), UTRGV senior associate dean for Education and Academic Affairs and chair of the Department of Medical Education, has been recognized by the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center F. Marie Hall Institute of Rural and Community Health – which he established during his time at Texas Tech – for his role in expanding access for the under-served in the state. He is shone here with his 2017 Rural Health Visionary Award with Dr. Billy Phillips, executive vice president of the institute. (Courtesy Photo)

Dr. Leonel Vela (at left), UTRGV senior associate dean for Education and Academic Affairs and chair of the Department of Medical Education, has been recognized by the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center F. Marie Hall Institute of Rural and Community Health – which he established during his time at Texas Tech – for his role in expanding access for the under-served in the state. He is shown here with his 2017 Rural Health Visionary Award with Dr. Billy Phillips, executive vice president of the institute. (Courtesy Photo)

By J. Edward Moreno

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – AUG. 3, 2017 – Dr. Leonel Vela, UTRGV senior associate dean for Education and Academic Affairs and chair of the Department of Medical Education, has been recognized by the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center F. Marie Hall Institute of Rural and Community Health for his role in expanding access for the underserved in the state.

Vela, who established the Institute of Rural and Community Health during his time at Texas Tech, received the 2017 Rural Health Visionary Award, an honor given to individuals who have helped expand health services to rural communities in Texas.

During his time at Texas Tech, Vela helped establish programs to improve access to healthcare in rural West Texas, one of the state’s most medically underserved areas.

“In some of these towns, there was literally no healthcare provider,” the Pharr native said. “Through means of telemedicine, and working with local schools, we were able to provide these people with healthcare services.

“It’s rewarding to have been able to develop these programs, so that individuals who live in areas where it is difficult to access healthcare can benefit from modern medicine,” he said.

Dr. John H. Krouse, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine, said Vela’s knowledge of the Rio Grande Valley and its unique health needs are a key component of the university’s focus on collaborative care.

“Dr. Vela is from the Valley and we highly value his ability to assess the needs of the Valley community and help build healthcare programs that increase access and improve quality of care. He truly is a visionary, and this award is well-deserved,” Krouse said.

Dr. Billy Philips, executive vice president and director of The Center F. Marie Hall Institute of Rural and Community Health, said Vela’s passion for eliminating barriers to healthcare is what set the foundation for the institute.

“His career while at Texas Tech University Health Science Center was marked by his compassion for people, especially those living in rural areas, for eliminating health disparities, and for educating health professionals to work collaboratively in inter-professional teams sensitive to cultural issues and social determinants of health,” he said.

Currently, Vela represents UTRGV as principal investigator for The University of Texas Collaborative on Population Health Innovation and Improvement (UT-CoPHII), an initiative started by the UT System to identify community needs, address health disparities and identify population health priorities for collaborative projects across the UT System.

“The concepts that I was responsible for developing at Texas Tech are the same concepts that I’m using in this collaborative project,” Vela said.

Vela accepted his recognition June 23, 2017, at the annual Rural Health at the Crossroads Conference, held at the Amarillo Civic Center. 

READ MORE ABOUT VELA

ABOUT UTRGV

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.

MEDIA CONTACTS

J. Edward Moreno
UTRGV Staff Writer / 956-665-3639 

Marci Caltabiano-Ponce
UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications / 956-665-2742