Local healthcare leaders convened on Monday to discuss the growth of San Antonio’s health and bioscience industry since Methodist Hospital opened its doors in September 1963, becoming the first building in the landscape of what is now the South Texas Medical Center.

In a conversation titled, “The South Texas Medical Center: A Look Back at the First 50 Years … A Look Ahead at the Next 50 Years,” panelists at the Omni Colonnade Hotel offered their takes on what the $37 billion local industry might do to remain on an upward trajectory.

Much of the Medical Center’s success over the past 50 years can be attributed to collaborative efforts among local institutions, said Dr. William Henrich, president of UT Health San Antonio.

Henrich told the audience of around 275 that a new research consortium that includes UT Health San Antonio, the University of Texas at San Antonio, the Southwest Research Institute, and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute is aimed at elevating San Antonio’s reputation in the science community. “Collaboration between institutions … if we can do this exactly right, will be a beacon for others to join us,” Henrich said.

“What has gelled us is the complementary relationships going on between institutions. It’s not a competition with one another. If we can continue to do this, it will help us gain even more traction.”

The consortium will focus on expanding collaboration among the four organizations, which Henrich said bring more than $800 million annually to the San Antonio area, so that they might share research participants, serve on one another’s search committees, and find collaborative projects where they can make the most use of local funding to make a bigger dent in treatment and prevention of chronic diseases including cancer and diabetes.

George Hernandez, president and CEO of University Health System, said when Hurricane Katrina devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005, it became “even more obvious that [San Antonio] is a unique city” that thrives on its ability to work well together, as organizations “banded together to save lives.”

Going forward, Hernandez said, local health and bioscience leaders must remain aware of the demographics in the area as well as measures that ensure San Antonio produces an educated workforce able to compete for jobs as the city becomes more competitive in the health and bioscience industry.

With the majority of San Antonio’s Hispanic population currently under the age of 5, Hernandez said ensuring that youth have access to high-quality education and health care will be key for San Antonio compete globally.

San Antonio Metropolitan Health Director Colleen Bridger said addressing negative childhood experiences, specifically ones that may be physically or emotionally damaging, including limited access to resources, is key to improving both physical and mental health for residents. It would also have a positive effect on the city’s bottom line and allocation of resources, she said.

“There is a dose-response relationship between the number of traumatic events someone experiences and their chances of developing cancer,” Bridger said, noting that Metro Health will be working to establish a trauma-informed consortium to educate local organizations on how to take a more educated and empathetic approach.

Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president and CEO of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, said as the city continues to improve opportunities residents to live, work, and play in the area, there “will be less need for the city to recruit businesses and chase talent.”

“We can compete due to assets we have had for years, we just need to do a better job of telling our story and talking about the incredible bioscience and health care” research happening in San Antonio, Saucedo-Herrera said.

Monday’s event, initiated by Methodist Healthcare Ministries and moderated by Rivard Report Editor and Publisher Robert Rivard, was the first of its kind in the city, San Antonio Medical Foundation President Jim Reed said, adding it was also the first time in the last 20 years that community leaders in the health and bioscience industry got together to celebrate successes and discuss challenges and opportunities moving forward.

“Health care is the thing that is talked about on an ongoing basis more than anything else in the country. As the industry continues to expand locally, 50 percent of the jobs created locally will be in the Medical Center, and 20 percent of new housing will be there,” Reed said. “To compete globally, we have to keep competing for national funding and find opportunities to work together.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.