Friday, October 5, 2018
  Community, Announcements

By Jennifer Berghom

RIO GRANDE VALLEY – The UTRGV School of Medicine celebrated the opening of its second Area Health Education Center (AHEC) on Thursday, Oct. 4, at the Bob Clark Social Service Center in Cameron County.

The AHECs support the UTRGV School of Medicine’s mission to close gaps in access to healthcare and expand educational opportunities for its students.

The School of Medicine last year received a five-year, $3.75 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration to develop the three AHECS, which are intended to:

  • Help increase access to primary healthcare in rural and underserved areas.
  • Develop and enhance education and training networks within communities, academic institutions and community-based organizations.
  • Teach medical and students in other health-related disciplines about the social determinants of health and health disparities.

The School of Medicine previously hosted a grand opening ceremony for its AHEC at the La Victoria community in Starr County. A third grand opening is being planned for San Carlos in Hidalgo County.

“This is an excellent example of the School of Medicine working in partnership with our counties to increase access to healthcare and to improve the lives and health in our communities,” said Dr. Linda Nelson, senior director of Clinical Operations for UTRGV School of Medicine. “It is through initiatives such as the AHEC programs that availability of services in the Valley are increased.”

Dr. John Ronnau, senior associate dean for Community Health Partnerships at the UTRGV School of Medicine and director of the AHEC program, said the AHEC grant provides a tremendous opportunity for UTRGV School of Medicine to be of service and to remain engaged in the communities, which are rural and have underserved populations.

“It’s integral to our mission and in keeping with what the federal government, what HRSA, expects of us with this grant,” Ronnau said. “This grant is the perfect opportunity to meet the needs of these communities, but it wouldn’t happen without the partnerships between the School of Medicine and the three counties, and that’s the beauty of it.”

The AHECs include primary healthcare centers operated by professional healthcare staff, faculty and students of the School of Medicine, School of Nursing and the College of Health Professions.

The School of Medicine, School of Nursing and the College of Health Professions are developing curriculum for students that will include offering credit for their work in the clinic, and will develop a pipeline program through which high school students interested in healthcare-related fields can receive training. 

The three AHEC facilities are being developed in partnership with the three counties and the County Commissioner in the precinct where the AHEC is located.

“This new area health education center is important to Cameron County and to our rural communities,” said Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. “Education and healthcare are critically important to the economic well-being of our community. This partnership between UTRGV and Cameron County is a perfect fit when it comes to enhancing health education networks in underserved communities, and in the process working alongside community-based organizations.  

“I encourage our residents to utilize this center, which will offer many types of health services,” he said.

The center, located at 9901 California Road in Brownsville, will operate one day a week, but UTRGV plans to expand services to five days a week over the next few years.


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.