Texas A&M Coastal Bend Health Education Center celebrates 20 years

By educating professionals, students, patients and the community, center improves health of Coastal Bend residents
October 2, 2019

This academic year, the Texas A&M Coastal Bend Health Education Center is celebrating 20 years of giving back life to residents of the Coastal Bend. Established in 1999 through Senate Bill 590, the Coastal Bend Health Education Center improves health care in the region by enhancing education of health professionals, patients, students and the community. This is done through four core programs: Diabetes Education, Medication Assistance, Continuing Education and Health Careers.

Diabetes Education Program

The Diabetes Education Program teaches those with diabetes how to manage their blood sugar in order to prevent serious complications of the disease, including heart attack, kidney failure, amputation and blindness. Participants learn practical self-management skills such as glucose monitoring, nutrition, exercise, medication management, goal setting and basic mental health strategies. After completing the eight-hour course, participants return to the program every three months for a year to follow up with their health educator, receive continued education, assess progress and set new goals.

“The class was amazing to me,” said Mary Peralez, a Diabetes Education class participant and former community health worker with the program. “The educators made me feel like I was an active participant in the program, not just a diagnosis. Seeing my blood sugar come down during my follow-up appointments helped me understand that by taking care of myself, I was adding years to my life.”

Medication Assistance Program

Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation, meaning millions of Texans do not have insurance to cover their prescription medications. The Coastal Bend Health Education Center helps local residents overcome financial barriers to better health through its Medication Assistance Program. By working closely with pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies, the program helps those without insurance and limited prescription coverage obtain their prescription medicines for free or almost free. On average, those served by this program collectively save more than $3 million each year on prescription drug costs.

“If I hadn’t gotten cured, my disease might have gotten worse. I might not even be here today,” said Ricardo Cantu, a single father of two teenagers who received the drug that cured his hepatitis C for free through the Medication Assistance Program. Without assistance, Cantu’s out-of-pocket fee for the medication would have been $100,000. “This program allowed me to have more time with my kids and a longer life, which I appreciate with all my heart,” he said.

Continuing Education Program

Despite best efforts to stay healthy, illness and injury are inevitable. The Coastal Bend Health Education Center works to improve the quality of health care in the region by educating health professionals on the latest standards of care, treatment, medical technology and research. The center’s Continuing Education Program is accredited by the Texas Medical Association and the Accreditation Council of Pharmacy Education to provide continuing education for physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.

The program accredits workshops, grand rounds, distance education courses, and multiple interdisciplinary conferences each year. Conferences are held in Corpus Christi and feature presentations by renowned experts as well as workshop-style learning experiences designed to enhance collaboration of the interprofessional medical team.

“The learning that happens at these conferences has an academic presentation, but there’s so much more that comes with it: camaraderie, networking and support,” said Jack Cortese, MD, a nephrologist and chair of the center’s continuing medical education advisory committee. “All of that goes into a well-rounded clinician, and a better clinician means better care and health outcomes for our community.”

Health Careers Program

As the population continues to age and grow, more health professionals will be needed. At the same time, as health care advances and becomes more specialized, new professions will emerge. To meet these demands, the center provides opportunities for K–12 students to explore the array of professions that make up the health industry and supports their pursuit of careers in health care. Because the Coastal Bend is home to many rural and medically underserved counties, the center encourages students to return to their hometowns to practice after completing their education.

“We reach students in rural areas by hosting our annual conferences in places like Kingsville and Laredo, where the shortage of health care professionals is greater,” said Delia Martinez, the Health Careers Program coordinator. “We also provide information about programs, like Texas A&M’s Partnership for Primary Care, that assist rural students in applying to colleges.”

A healthier community

Close collaboration with the local health care community, schools, higher education, private industry, community-based organizations, city and county government and individuals has been critical to the progress the Coastal Bend Health Education Center has made in improving the health of the community.

“We have spent 20 years developing relationships, inciting enthusiasm for preventive health, refining our services and helping people enjoy healthier, longer lives,” said Starr Flores, MBA, director of the Coastal Bend Health Education Center. “The success and stories of the people we have worked with—both within the organization and in the community—are a constant reminder of why we do what we do, because life is worth living to its fullest.”

— Lindsey Hendrix

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