Health Care Community Forum

After brief introductions of those present, José Rodríguez opened the Health Care Community Forum by welcoming the attendees and introducing the members of the health care panel and the issues to be addressed:

  • James Valenti, CEO of the University Medical Center, “Implementing Federal Health Care Reforms.”
  • Rebecca Vasquez, Associate Professor & Clinical Site Coordinator at Texas Tech School of Nursing, “Addressing the Shortage of Health Care Professionals;” and
  • Salvador Balcorta, CEO of Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe, “Providing Healthcare to the Indigent.”

José expressed his hope that both the panel and audience members would provide important input regarding the critical issues on the forum’s agenda as well as on other issues including mental health. He emphasized that he hoped that participants would begin an ongoing dialogue with him to keep him informed on these issues both during and after the election. Finally, he invited participants to become members of his campaign’s advisory group on health care.

James Valenti expressed three main concerns with the new federal health care reforms, although it was his hope that his concerns would be eventually addressed. Stating that it may take at least 10 years for full implementation, he stated the new law does not address medical education, nor does it provide for funding; it does not address the issue of providing health care to the undocumented; and, it does not sufficiently address tort reform. Mr. Valenti expressed uncertainty about the law’s effects on his institution because he is seeing a reduction in Medicare and Medicaid funding. His reaction to the uncertainties was a feeling of being “under siege.”

Professor Rebecca Vasquez began her comments by stating that the shortage of nurses and doctors was happening everywhere, not just in El Paso. The universities are not producing enough health care professionals due to lack of capacity. One problem is the lack of incentives for nurse educators. For example, nurse educators earn between $50,000 and $60,000 a year, while they can earn much more as specialty nurses. The worse shortage is in bedside care nurses because there is a high burnout rate among this group. The growth that we are seeing due to BRAC and the migration of families from Cd. Juarez will only exacerbate this shortage. There is also a shortage of physicians in our community. Ms. Vasquez lauded the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce for their efforts to recruit more health care professionals.

The origins of Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe, a community health clinic, were briefly described by Salvador Balcorta: “an organization begun by single mothers who had a vision for an institution that would be able to provide holistic services to improve the quality of life in the barrio.” With respect to federal reform, Mr. Balcorta emphasized that we should not diminish our President by unduly criticizing health reform. Because it is a hot political issue, this criticism is being used against him. Mr. Balcorta also addressed the need to include mental health and substance abuse as integral parts of health care. He stated that the worst health care problems exist among the prison population. He emphasized the need to identify and replicate successful models, such as the El Paso Bienvivir model for the care of the elderly and the development of rehabilitation villages as opposed to correctional facilities.

A lively comment and question and answer session followed after the presentations. Audience members described successful models, concepts and possible solutions to the issues raised. (See audience comments.) José closed the session by thanking the panelists and audience for the invaluable input they had provided and again expressed his hope that this kind of input would continue during and after the election, and during and after the 2011 legislative session.