University to Study Health Care at Mexican Border

Published November 1, 2001

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced the department has awarded a $250,000 research grant to the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The initial investment is for a five-year agreement to establish a Regional Center for Health Workforce Studies at the school.

The new center will study how access to health care is affected by the quality and quantity of the health care workforce along the U.S.- Mexico border and in the south central United States.

Thompson explained in a news release announcing the award, “The new UT-San Antonio research center will help us develop effective strategies for attracting the right mix of doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals to serve the people who live in the border region.”

The grant, according to Thompson, “is part of our broader commitment to improving access to health care for children and families in this undeserved area.”

Border Issues

The new regional center is part of the Border Health Initiative, led by the department’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), created to improve health care access for people in the US- Mexico border region.

The region is characterized by high poverty, poor environmental conditions, and significant health challenges. As an example, tuberculosis at the border is six times the national rate; measles and mumps are preventable, but the incidence rate at the border is twice the U.S. average. About 3 million of 11 million border residents have no health insurance. Many residents live in unincorporated communities that lack running water, sewers, storm drainage, and electricity.

In the past four years, HRSA has invested $280 million to improve health care along the border, including roughly $83 million in fiscal year 2001. Those resources have provided residents with primary health care, maternal and child health care services, HIV/AIDS care, and other services. HRSA has also supported programs to train and place health professionals in the region.

Finding Out, Reaching Out

The new center at San Antonio will assess some of the most pressing health workforce issues in the region. These include examining regional staffing levels for physicians, nurses, dentists, public health, mental health, and allied health professionals; placement of those professionals throughout the region; training needs; and recruitment and retention. The agreement recognizes the difficulties border residents face and the role local researchers can play in improving conditions.

HRSA Acting Administrator Elizabeth M. Duke said, “The first step in improving access to care in the region is to find out how many health care workers we have, what disciplines they work in, and where they are located. Then we can put together a strategy to encourage providers to work where the need for their services is greatest.”

HRSA is also making copies of Diario de Salud, a diary for expectant mothers who speak Spanish, with an updated vaccination chart. The diary was developed to help expectant mothers have a healthy baby and presents information about childbirth from conception through the age of 2. It includes fill-in-the-blank forms the mother can complete as her pregnancy progresses. Copies are available by calling 1-888-ASK-HRSA.

Thompson noted in the news release that HHS will renew competitive cooperative agreements at the four existing regional centers–University of California at San Francisco, University of Illinois at Chicago, State University of New York at Albany, and University of Washington, Seattle–currently conducting workforce studies for much of the rest of the United States.

For more information . . .

visit An HRSA factsheet with more information about the Border Health Initiative is available at