*Note - Gov. Perry frequently departs from prepared remarks.
Thank you, Dr. [Leo] Vela [Regional Dean] and thank you for hosting us here today in Harlingen, where we're celebrating an important milestone for the Valley.
Here at this Regional Academic Health Center, men and women have been developing the skills needed to improve medical care here in the Valley and across Texas.
As they have fulfilled the requirements of their medical residencies, these students have also cared for the citizens of this area, thus increasing the number of healthcare practitioners in the Valley.
That is vitally important in an area that has been dealing with a shortfall of caregivers for far too long.
We started making inroads on that issue in 2003 when the people of Texas voted to reform our legal system.
Ever since Texans voted to approve Proposition 12, the number of doctors applying to practice medicine in Texas has skyrocketed 57%.
In 2008, the Texas Medical Board received more than 4,000 applications for medical licenses and issued a record 3,621.
In the five years after reforms passed, nearly 14,500 doctors either returned to work in Texas or began practicing here for the first time, many of them in previously underserved areas.
Here in the Rio Grande Valley, applications are up 18%, and about 200 more doctors are practicing here than in 2003.
That's 200 more doctors setting broken bones, overseeing the safe delivery of new babies, and handling trauma cases that previously would have required evacuation to San Antonio.
That's tremendous progress, but we still have work to do.
According to the most recent figures, the South Texas region only has 57 physicians per 100,000 citizens.
By comparison, the statewide average is 157 and the national average is 220 per 100,000.
At the same time, the ratio of Hispanic graduates from Texas med schools doesn't line up with our overall Hispanic population.
Nearly 36% of our state population claims Hispanic origin while less than 12% of our medical school graduates can do the same.
I certainly don't believe that a person's ethnic background has anything to do with the quality of care they might provide.
Instead, that statistic lets us know that we might not be making the opportunity to compete as accessible as we should.
We are here today to build on the success of our tort reform efforts and continue increasing the quantity and quality of medical care here in the Valley by ceremonially signing Senate Bill 98.
SB 98 allows the University of Texas System to convert the Lower Rio Grande Valley Regional Academic Health Center, where I am standing today, into a health science center.
The new center will be called The University of Texas Health Science Center -- South Texas, and will increase the flow of doctors into the Valley.
I would like to thank and congratulate Senator Eddie Lucio for taking the lead on Senate Bill 98, and Representative Eddie Lucio, III, for sponsoring this bill in the House.
This is the latest in a Lucio family tradition of representing the people of the Rio Grande Valley to the Texas Legislature and ensuring the voices of the Valley are heard in Austin.
Now, I would like to invite Senator Lucio to the podium to share his thoughts on this important piece of legislation. Senator?
[LUCIO, JR. SPEAKS]
Thank you, Senator and thank you again for your continued advocacy for the people of South Texas.
Now, I would like to invite the gentleman who sponsored this bill in the House to share his thoughts. Representative Eddie Lucio, III.
[LUCIO, III SPEAKS]
Thank you, Eddie.
Now, let's hear from a man who helped dedicate this facility in 2002, and continues to uphold the highest standards of academic excellence across the entire UT system, Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa.
Thank you, Francisco and thank you for your inspired leadership of the UT system.
Now, let's put pen to paper so the folks around here can get rolling on turning this Regional Academic Health Center into The University of Texas Health Science Center -- South Texas.
Now, we'd be happy to take questions about this legislation from our friends in the working press here today.