Rethinking the application of a resource or technology and how it can be used in different ways to meet needs is the foundation for innovation. This same principle applies to delivering health care and education in the region.
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and its regional campuses are uniquely centered in the midst of this rich rural research environment, leading initiatives that go beyond statistics, creating real-world rural health solutions. With these distinctive characteristics, West Texas’ location, trending population demographics, relative isolation and limited rural healthcare system make it a microcosm of factors that will impact rural America.
In May 1969, the Texas Legislature authorized the Texas Technological College to open a School of Medicine. With that, Texas Tech kept a promise; it had prevailed in its quest dating to the early 1960s to begin providing for the health care needs of the people in West Texas. In 1979, the Texas Legislature recognized the expanding role of the School of Medicine in the region and rewarded that success by chartering the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, which today, houses the School of Medicine, the School of Pharmacy, the Anita Thigpen Perry School of Nursing, the School of Allied Health Sciences, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. Plans are being made to add Schools of Dentistry and Public Health in the coming decade and for the Paul L. Foster School of Medicinein El Paso to become the second health sciences center in the Texas Tech System to be chartered as the Health Sciences Center of the Americas.
The Health Sciences Center serves the largest contiguous populated rural area in the United States. The service region was demarcated by a line suggested by the founding Dean of Medicine, Dr. John A. Buesseler, and was intended to encompass the State Health Service Planning Regions 1, 2, 9 and 10. Thus the 108 western-most counties of Texas became the official service region for Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. This region spans from the Texas/Mexico border northward to the Texas/Oklahoma border, a distance of 605 miles; and from the eastern to the western-most points 560 miles. If one drives either North to South or East to West, the trip at conventional highway speed is about 10 ½ hours.
The delivery of health care is a challenge in West Texas. Signals of the fragility of the healthcare system are indicated by:
- Few hospitals across the region, including only 77 critical access hospitals, with rural residents in some areas at least 35 miles from the nearest hospital;
- Slim operating margins for many of these hospitals as low as 2.5%; and
- Shortages of primary healthcare professionals to meet the needs of the region.
The people of West Texas suffer from the same kinds of illnesses and diseases as that elsewhere. The challenges here are in the diverse demographic characteristics of those populations. They range from undocumented people including Native Americans and second generation Hispanic people, to the large numbers of school-aged children and a growing number of senior citizens retiring to the favorable climates of West Texas.