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Diversifying Rio Grande Valley’s Nursing Pipeline

Leavitt School of Health to Host Health Equity Conference, Oct. 17, in Texas

Western Governors University’s (WGU) Institute for Advancing Health Value, a part of the Michael O. Leavitt School of Health, and AltaCair, an accountable care organization, will host the health equity conference, Accelerator2023, in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV), on Oct. 17th, in Mission, Texas. Aneesh Chopra, president of Care Journey and former chief technology officer for the United States and Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley are the keynote speakers for the event.

Located at the southernmost point of Texas, RGV is inherently diverse because of its proximity to the Mexican border. The region is home to 1.4 million people (almost twice the population of El Paso), nearly 90% Hispanic, and has some of the poorest counties in the country: Starr, Hidalgo, Willacy, and Cameron. The region came under microscope 14 years ago when surgeon, writer, and public health researcher, Dr. Atul Gawande (MPH), wrote his landmark article, The Cost Conundrum, that was published in The New Yorker. The article highlighted RGV’s healthcare inequities, but the region still awaits real transformation.

“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed communities like the Rio Grande Valley even further. Lack of access to healthcare, insufficient transportation, limited hospital and medical facilities, burnt out health workforce, and economic depressions have multiplied the region’s inequities,” said Edwin Estevez, co-founder and principal, AltaCair, and market president, Prominence Health. “This is why having this monumental collaboration is critical to evaluate the extent of baseline transformation around health equity. Revisiting the cost and quality conundrums in communities like these is imperative.”

The conference aims to mobilize the community-based ecosystem of RGV to develop a scalable model with replicable results for the nationwide optimization of value-based care, healthcare workforce, and health equity. Key components include expert sessions, panel discussions, tabletop activities, and formation of action networks for future community upliftment projects.

“Community action plays a vital role in effecting sustainable change. Communities and community-driven actions to promote health are essential components in advancing health equity in the RGV,” said Eric Weaver, executive director for the Institute for Advancing Health Value at the Leavitt School of Health at WGU. “This research-intensive health equity conference will fill in the missing gaps to advance value-based, equitable health structure in the RGV.”

This program offers a significant opportunity to improve the health landscape of the RGV region by leveraging the power of coopetition – collaboration with competitors – because of the presence of a multitude of hospitals and nonprofit organizations. The plan is to generate expanded solutions focused on reskilling and upskilling the clinical workforce through scalable educational programs. Following the convening, the action networks will develop customized and measurable goal-oriented plans for the upliftment of the region.

WGU’s Leavitt School of Health will support the action networks by providing data, collaborating on strategy, monitoring benchmarks, and serving as neutral facilitators with timely assessments. In collaboration with the community members, the university will also develop plans to diversify the nursing pipeline and strengthen the region’s clinical capacity. With innovative, practical, and competency-based programs, like WGU’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Prelicensure) degree program, the university will support the aspiring nursing students to pursue high-quality education within their community.

“Our aim is to remove barriers and increase access to education and healthcare in the Rio Grande Valley with affordable competency-based programs that develop nursing graduates who provide compassionate and quality care,” said Keith Smith, senior vice president, Leavitt School of Health, WGU.

WGU has educated 2% of the nation’s registered nurses, representing more than 170,000 jobs in the healthcare industry, according to the Utah Foundation Research Brief. With the Accelerator 2023 conference, WGU aims to propel a massive healthcare overhaul in the RGV region, followed by replicable actions in other rural areas of the country, to drive impact and enhance inclusivity.

Accelerator2023 will be held Tuesday, Oct. 17, in Mission, Texas. Witness the transformation in real-time and join those working to advance the Rio Grande Valley. Register here.

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