(McALLEN, TX) — The Lower Rio Grande Valley is one of eight sites in the United States recently selected for a new Hispanic Aging Initiative by the Department of Health and Human Services and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health will provide program assistance for the Valley counties of Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy. Nelda Mier, Ph.D., assistant professor in the HSC-SRPH, leads the Lower Rio Grande Valley Community Partnership (LRGVCP) in addressing health disparities for older Hispanics in the Valley area.

The partnership is comprised of “critical, committed local stakeholder organizations with significant experience serving the needs of Hispanic elderly and their families in the Lower Rio Grande Valley,” Dr. Mier said.

The LRGVCP includes the HSC-SRPH, the HSC-South Texas Center in McAllen, Area Agency on Aging, Migrant Health Promotion, The University of Texas-Pan American Border Health Office, First United Methodist Church, Border Affairs office of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Health Ministries Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Nuestra Clinica del Valle, Amigos del Valle, and the Colonias Program of the Center for Housing and Urban Development in the Texas A&M University College of Architecture.

“We are very excited to be part of the HHS Hispanic Aging Initiative and looking forward to meeting other partners from different sites,” Dr. Mier said. “Through our participation in the national workshop and network, we will learn about other partners’ activities, share information and resources, and together, we will be addressing health disparities affecting the Hispanic elderly in America.”

The LRGVCP has determined diabetes to be the greatest concern to aging Hispanic populations in the area. One study of those age 58 and older in Valley colonias (economically and socially disadvantaged areas) found a self-reported prevalence of diabetes above 46 percent. The statewide prevalence for those age 65 and older is slightly above 16 percent.

While there already are programs addressing diabetes in the area, there is a need for interventions with an evidence-based approach to address health disparities specific to this age group. The LRGVCP mission is to collaboratively select and culturally adapt an evidence-based, culturally sensitive intervention in response to the disproportionate disease burden among the area’s older Hispanic population.

“We believe there is a need for a culturally sensitive, evidence-based diabetes program for elderly Hispanics in the Valley seeking to improve their lifestyle behaviors, as well as their access to influenza and pneumonia vaccinations,” Dr. Mier said.

The partnership faces many challenges in this new project, including obtaining funding to implement the appropriate intervention once it is selected. Other obstacles include reaching out to the target population, which is spread across a very large area and has problems accessing transportation and health care.

The project partners, however, have vast experience in serving the needs of Hispanic elderly and their families in the Valley.

Other Hispanic Aging Initiative project sites are Houston, San Antonio, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami and New York.

The Texas A&M Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its six components located in communities throughout Texas are Baylor College of Dentistry, the College of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology, the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, and the School of Rural Public Health.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell