By Rosanne Fohn
|Adela Gonzalez, Ph.D., M.P.A., leads the South Texas Area Health Education Center programs as executive director of the Center for South Texas Programs, part of the UT Health Science Center.|
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As University of Texas System leaders begin plans for a new academic health center in the Rio Grande Valley, history shows that community and university leaders began advocating for improved health care and health education for South Texans 20 years ago. In December, many of the early leaders and initiators met to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the South Texas Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program.
The celebration was held Dec. 9 on the campus of the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, which manages the South Texas AHEC program
through its Center for South Texas Programs
. Five regional centers
The South Texas AHEC provides administrative support for a network of five regional centers in South Texas that work to improve the health of individuals and communities through education and training. Each center’s leadership works with communities in its region to develop programs that:
- Introduce students to the health care disciplines and encourage them to enter the health care field
- Train and educate individuals and communities about good health practices, including culturally competent, high-quality care
The majority of the 38 counties in the South Texas AHEC network have been designated by the federal government as Medically Underserved Areas and/or Health Professional Shortage Areas.
|Many of trailblazers and community partners who supported improved health care and health education were honored by the South Texas Area Health Education Center.|
“I feel so honored to be leading the South Texas AHEC at this historic time,” said Adela Gonzalez, Ph.D., M.P.A., executive director of the Center for South Texas Programs. “It is a privilege to honor the trailblazers who took the first steps in organizing and implementing the AHEC program, and to honor the community leaders who have continued building on this dream,” said Gonzalez.Trailblazer Awards
Five Trailblazer Awards were presented to early university and community leaders who advocated for better health care and health education in South Texas.
Community Leader Awards
- Ciro V. Sumaya, M.D., M.P.H.T.M., the first director of the South Texas AHEC, was honored for his leadership as principal investigator and author of the original AHEC grant submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Service that in 1999 garnered $3.2 million for the first three years of the program, and $1.6 million to fund the fourth year.
He served as AHEC director from 1990-1993, and currently serves as dean of the School of Rural Health at Texas A&M Health Science Center, where he holds the Cox Endowed Chair in Medicine.
- Paula Gomez is credited with “planting the seed” for what is known today as the South Texas AHEC program. Meeting in the late 1980s with community and Health Science Center leaders at a donut shop in Brownsville, she sketched on a coffee-stained napkin the plans for the AHEC system. She was instrumental in conveying the vision to the leadership at UT Health Science Center. Gomez continues to serve as executive director of the Brownsville Community Health Center.
- Cervando Martinez Jr., M.D., a professor of psychiatry and family practice at the UT Health Science Center, served as the second director of the South Texas AHEC and associate dean for affiliated programs and CME during the AHEC’s early years. He led the AHEC program through its developing stages of the South Texas Border Region Health Education Initiative to ensure quality delivery of services in the region.
- Richard Garcia’s widow, Georgia Garcia, received the posthumous award for her husband, who served as the associate program director of the AHEC under the leadership of Drs. Sumaya and Martinez, and then as director from 1996 until his death in 2006. Garcia spent 30 years expanding health opportunities in the South Texas border region, seeking federal funding and building the relationships needed to implement the South Texas AHEC program.
- James D. Kazen, executive vice president for facility planning and operations, was honored for coordinating and implementing hundreds of programs funded through the South Texas Border Region Education Initiative. He guided AHEC, Health Science Center and community leaders in the outlying regions to create and develop programs to meet the needs of the regions.
Ten Community Leader Awards were presented to representatives from the five regional AHECs the Health Science Center administers.
- Lower Rio Grande Valley AHEC award recipients were Adela Valdez, M.D., the first center director, and Graciela G. Reyna, M.L.S., who established a circuit librarian program in this AHEC.
- Mid Rio Grande Border AHEC award recipients were two longstanding board members, Mercurio Martinez Jr., and Mario Gonzalez, CPA.
- Southwest Border AHEC honorees are AHEC President Don Spaulding, RN, M.S.N., and United Medical Centers.
- South Coastal AHEC honorees were Rick D. Edwards, M.D., and CHRISTUS-Spohn Corpus Christi Memorial Hospital, integral partners in the medical student rotations and residencies.
- South Central AHEC honorees include oral health advocate Javier Garcia, D.D.S., and the Health Science Center’s Department of Family & Community Medicine.
For more information about each awards winner and the history of the South Texas AHEC, please refer to the commemorative program
and the video about the AHEC programs