HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — A group of legislators recently explored the Rio Grande Valley, learning about the region’s needs beyond what makes national headlines.

Texas state Sen. Morgan LaMantia said she wants her colleagues in Austin to see what the Valley really is, rather than how it’s portrayed through a lens of border issues as it’s often shown in the national mainstream media. 

“We are such a unique part of Texas,” LaMantia said. “Unless you’ve actually been here and seen the Valley and talked to the people who live on the border, you don’t really understand it. Having all these other elected officials down to the border so they can see it for themselves – hopefully, it gives us so many more partners to help fight for what the border needs.”

With the 88th Legislative Session underway in Austin, the University of Texas Rio Grand Valley hosted lawmakers from across Texas on two stops of a legislative tour of the region.RGV Partnership welcomed elected officials for a four-day tour that began Jan. 26 at the UTRGV Harlingen Collegiate High School, with a Healthcare Panel Discussion hosted by UTRGV.

Panelists included:

  • Dr. Michael Hocker, dean of UTRGV School of Medicine.
  • Leslie Bingham, senior vice president and hospital CEO of Valley Baptist Health System. 
  • Esmeralda Guajardo, Cameron County Public Health administrator.
  • Matthew Wolthoff, president of Driscoll Children’s Hospital-Rio Grande Valley. 
  • Dr. Javier La Fontaine, DPM, dean of the UTRGV School of Podiatric Medicine.
  • Anabell Cardona, president and CEO of Valley Grande Institute.

Hocker told those gathered the UTRGV School of Medicine is filling a need for physicians in an underserved community. 

“We don’t have enough physicians and we don’t have enough specialists. I can go down the list of statistics,” Hocker said. “But we are changing that through our School of Medicine.”

Medical education is not the only reason people travel north, Hocker said. They also leave the area with life-saving medical care and treatment for cancer patients.

“People with access, money, insurance – they’re leaving the Valley for healthcare. And then we have the population who doesn’t have the means to do that, and they just go home and die,” Hocker said. “And that is not OK.” 

One of several stops concluded Saturday with a Workforce and Economic Development Ecosystem panel, held at the eBridge Center in Brownsville, to discuss border security, culture, tourism, education, and workforce in the RGV.

Ron Garza, associate vice president of Workforce and Economic Development, said the soon-to-be-open eBridge will play a vital role in the development and expansion of business enterprises across the region, according to UTRGV’s news release. 

“This facility expands UTRGV’s footprint in Brownsville and will showcase the collaboration between the City of Brownsville, BCIC, and UTRGV in fostering local economic development,” Garza said. 

The Texas 88th Legislative Session is scheduled to conclude May 29.