Skip to content Skip to Live Chat

WGU Addresses Health Equity and Workforce Challenges

Western Governors University’s (WGU) Michael O. Leavitt School of Health (LSH), its Institute for Advancing Health Value, and AltaCair, an accountable care organization, hosted the health equity conference, Accelerator2023, in Rio Grande Valley (RGV), Texas. Keynote speakers Aneesh Chopra, president of Care Journey and former chief technology officer for the United States, Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, as well as special guest Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of District 20, Texas, addressed the participants. The conference aimed at enhancing inclusivity by bringing together diverse stakeholders and thought leaders to propel a massive healthcare and workforce overhaul in the RGV region, followed by replicable actions in other rural areas of the country.

“This health equity conference is one of the many initiatives WGU is advancing to boost inclusivity. Our efforts aren’t limited to a single conference. We are here to create pathways to opportunity to enhance the healthcare workforce capacity through innovative, competency-based programs to really change lives for the better,” said Keith Smith, LSH senior vice president. “Our students in the RGV are a testament to our continued efforts.”

With nearly a 90% Hispanic population, the Texas’ border region of RGV is home to some of the nation’s poorest counties (Starr, Hidalgo, Willacy, and Cameron) where access to healthcare is unaffordable for many residents. The region experiences an acute dearth of physicians, nurses, and other health professionals. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, RGV is projected to have the state’s greatest percentage of unmet demand for nurses at 27.2%, representing 6,274 full-time nursing positions by 2032. The region also will face a shortage of 722 primary care full-time equivalents by 2030. WGU’s conference focused on examining the region’s inequities and disparities and generating expanded solutions for reskilling and upskilling the clinical workforce through scalable educational programs.

“Identifying ways in which value-based care advances health equity is necessary in communities like Rio Grande Valley,” said Edwin Estevez, co-founder and principal, AltaCair. “Accelerator 2023 conference gave a platform to people from diverse sectors of the RGV community to come together and form partnerships for the overall optimization of the region’s health and workforce structure for improved patient outcomes.”

WGU’s Leavitt School of Health will further support the region by providing data, collaborating on strategy, monitoring benchmarks, and serving as neutral facilitators with timely assessments. In collaboration with the community members and policy makers, the university plans to unearth fresh opportunities 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 as well as other nursing and health programs, the university will support the aspiring students to pursue high-quality education within their community.

“Accelerator 2023 is a research-backed conference that drives the spirit of meaningful collaborations among competing health systems and accountable care organizations to develop long-term mutually beneficial solutions for real transformation in the RGV’s underserved and marginalized communities,” said Kimberly Kelly-Cortez, LSH Interim Vice President and Dean, College of Nursing. “We are removing barriers that prevent access to health and nursing degrees and growing the pipeline of well-qualified professionals ready to join the workforce. We cannot fix inequity by repeating what’s always been done. To witness change, we must first create pathways.”

The key themes for the conference were access to healthcare and value-based care; innovative, high-quality health and nurse education programs; nutrition security; and preventative care. The program included expert sessions, panel discussions, tabletop activities, and formation of action networks for future community upliftment projects.

Sharing her experience as a recent WGU BSN (Prelicensure) graduate from Texas, Alexis Presas said, “This is my first bachelor’s degree, and I believe WGU’s high-quality nursing education mingled with flexibility and affordability have prepared me well to join the healthcare industry. I leaned on the school’s faculty for expertise on the nuances of the field as well as information regarding new opportunities. The program’s clinical experience has increased my understanding about the intensive care unit and boosted my confidence to serve the ICU patients in the future.”

LSH, named in honor of the former governor of Utah and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, was established in 2006 with the mission to make a difference in the fields of healthcare, nursing, and higher education through competency-based education. The school has educated two percent of the nation’s registered nurses, representing more than 170,000 jobs in the healthcare industry, according to the Utah Foundation Research Brief. More than 20,000 students are currently enrolled at LSH and more than 100,000 have successfully graduated. Learn more at Leavitt School of Health (

Learn more about the conference.

View our experts’ and student perspectives.

This blog is part of a series:

Recommended Articles

Take a look at other articles from WGU. Our articles feature information on a wide variety of subjects, written with the help of subject matter experts and researchers who are well-versed in their industries. This allows us to provide articles with interesting, relevant, and accurate information.