|McALLEN, October 31 - Valley Interfaith leaders believe a concerted Get out the Vote campaign they are waging at six local churches can make the difference and secure a “yes” vote for a hospital district in Hidalgo County.
The community group believes they can educate between 7,000 and 10,000 potential voters on the hospital district issue and persuade them to vote, thus, potentially, tipping the balance in the tightly fought referendum.
“We are working hard to inform the public on this important issue. If we can tip the balance, more power to Valley Interfaith. We have been doing this for 30 years, getting involved in issues that affect our communities. Whether it be controversial or not we are looking at the benefit to our communities, not our self-interest. If we can tip that balance for the good of the community, better for us and our community,” said Eddie Anaya, a Valley Interfaith leader at St. Francis Cabrini in Las Milpas.
The churches in Hidalgo County where Valley Interfaith members are educating the congregation are at St. Francis Cabrini in Las Milpas, Holy Spirit in McAllen, St. Joseph the Worker in McAllen, St. Anthony in Penitas, Holy Family in Edinburg, and San Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoazin in McAllen.
“We have had informed meetings about the hospital district. How it would work, how it would affect our community, what are the advantages and disadvantages? We figured out the advantages far outweighed the disadvantages for our community,” Anaya said.
“So, this past Sunday, for example, we disseminated approximately 2,000 fliers in Spanish about the hospital district in Las Milpas. We block walked, informing hundreds of residents about Prop. 1 and how it is going to affect them. Yes, there were tough questions but that is what we want. We want an educated voter to go into the ballot box and vote in an educated way. We do not want them to look at negative ads or rumors or videos but to have a really informed understanding of what Prop. 1 is all about.”
Anaya said one of the “tough questions” Valley Interfaith leaders have been asked about is the fact that a hospital district will mean higher taxes. “We had enquires about that. In most of our communities, those with a home valued at $50,000 pay $25.50 because the tax rate is 5.5 percent. We believe the increased healthcare funding, the increased services we will get far outweighs the tax increase. We as an organization look out for our communities, our neighbors. We need a pay a little so that our neighbor can have access to healthcare in our county,” Anaya said.
Frank Perez, a Valley Interfaith leader at St. Joseph the Worker in McAllen, said healthcare services in Hidalgo County will be improved dramatically because of the hospital district’s ability to draw down tens of millions of additional federal healthcare dollars, pointing out that for every dollar invested locally, the federal government will match that dollar with $1.50. Perez also pointed out that the hospital district will provide a stable source of revenue for the UTRGV Medical School.
Perez also pointed out that:
• Hidalgo County has the largest percentage of residents without health insurance in the nation – 38 percent.
• Hidalgo County has one of the fastest growing Hispanic population centers in the nation.
• Hidalgo County has a physician shortage, limited resources and limited access to care and new treatments
• Hidalgo County is the largest county in Texas without a hospital district
• Hidalgo County has a disproportionate number of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cervical cancer.
Mario Duran, a Valley Interfaith leader at Holy Spirit in McAllen, said he was pleased to see Valley veterans groups and Project VIDA join Valley Interfaith at a news conference in support of a hospital district for Hidalgo County. The news conference was held at El Milagro Clinic in McAllen, which Valley Interfaith helped create 21 years ago.
The main opposition to the formation of the hospital district has come from the McAllen/Hidalgo County Tea Party, the OWLS government watchdog group, and Mission Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas. Mission is contributing $250,000 to help establish the UT-RGV Medical School and because of this will get a seat on the hospital district board.
State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez has questioned the wisdom of giving a seat on the hospital district board to those who oppose its formation. Martinez told the Guardian on Thursday that the City of Weslaco would be ready to “step up the plate” and pay towards the establishment of the medical school, if it were given a seat on the hospital district board.
“It is very obvious there are people in leadership positions that are against Proposition 1. We have a city that has a hospital, namely Weslaco. If some cities do not want that seat and they do not want to help improve healthcare opportunities in our county, then I am sure our leaders in Weslaco are very happy to do that. We would be very happy to have a seat on that board and to represent our medical school and our hospital district,” Martinez said.
“The city leaders in Weslaco are very capable of finding the money in order to have representation on the hospital district. I feel very strongly about the City of Weslaco and eastern Hidalgo County having representation on the hospital district board. If other cities do not want it we will gladly take it.”
Martinez pointed out that he worked hard during the last legislative session to make sure the first and second years of education at the medical school are conducted in Hidalgo County.
“We worked very hard to get the medical school established, to get the first and second years of medical education to be undertaken in Hidalgo County. I carried the amendment. I worked hard on the House floor to get the votes. We wanted to make sure the east side was represented well. We did what had to, we got the two years in Hidalgo County and now the east side should be represented on that hospital district board. It is a good fit because we have a hospital in our city,” Martinez said.
“I believe that as the legislation is formulated we, Weslaco, will get a seat on the board of the hospital district. So, I urge voters in eastern Hidalgo County to come out strongly for a ‘yes’ vote. We have been working to have better healthcare years. We must seize this opportunity.”
Martinez made his comments to the Guardian at a campaign event at the Blue Onion in Weslaco. At the same event, some political operatives associated with Hidalgo County Democratic Party said privately that they were working for a “no” vote on the hospital district referendum because they did not get the campaign funding from big donors that they believed they deserved in previous campaigns.
Calls to Mayor Salinas of Mission were not returned at press time.