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An increase of national measles cases has shined a light on those who don’t believe in vaccinating their children. As of last week, there were 102 reported cases of measles in 14 states.

Locally, Hidalgo County Health Director Eddie Olivarez said the area does a good a job of keeping up with its vaccinations, adding that 87 percent of children in the county are vaccinated.

The Monitor recently asked Olivarez about the recent outbreaks of measles and what it means to the county.

Q: What is herd immunity and how does it apply to the recent American outbreak of measles?

A: When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines — such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals — get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained. This is known as “community immunity. (www.vaccines.gov/basics/protection/)

Q: Should the United States tighten their legal exemptions for vaccinations?

A: High exemption rates leads to low immunization rates which leaves the state exceptionally vulnerable to outbreaks, not just of measles but potentially other diseases like mumps, rubella and whooping cough. For example, in 2000, the United States declared that measles was eliminated from this country. The United States was able to determine this because it has a highly effective measles vaccine, a strong vaccination program that achieves high vaccine coverage in children, and a strong public health system for detecting and responding to measles cases and outbreaks.

Q: Does our proximity to the Mexican border present any special health challenges for our area?

A: We must take into account our recent immigration data obtained from CBP that our public health risks are no longer localized but are international due to rapid transit and globalization. We must always be vigilant for any type of illness or outbreak that may be imported into our country, but equally important we must be responsible to limit the export of any and such illnesses, as well. Some of the health challenges we face along the US-Mexico border include high rates of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cancer, vector borne diseases, and other bacterial infections (such as salmonellosis and listeriosis). However, the importance of following through with vaccinations, annual physicals, proper diet and exercise would contribute to the reduction of these health risks.

Q: While we do have a high vaccination rate in Hidalgo County, are there any particular diseases prevalent or unique to our area in which citizens could be aware?

A: Our high vaccination rates are due to the commitment from our parents, local physicians, school nurses, daycare and public health partners. However, we cannot always predict what Mother Nature will bring in the form of vaccine preventable diseases; therefore, it is important that we increase our current vaccination numbers to assure limited infections. There is always a risk of some type of infectious disease affecting our community, however we continue to maintain our public health surveillance efforts in a proactive approach.

Q: What should Hidalgo County residents do to help protect themselves and others from preventable diseases?

A: Consult with your medical provider when dealing with any infectious diseases or illnesses which may be of concern to you. Educate yourself and your family on the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and methods in which you can prevent the spread of illness (i.e. The four Cs — Cover your mouth when you cough/sneeze, clean your hands with soap and water, contain yourself to home when you have a fever, and consult your physician).

Congratulations to Noel A. Ysasi, who has been selected as this year’s recipient of the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association “Doctoral Student of the Year” award.
Ysasi is currently pursuing his PhD in Rehabilitation Counseling, here at The University of Texas-Pan American.  His research interests mainly include those concerning the psychosocial world of veterans; however, his other research passions include the medical aspects of disability/SCI, forensic rehabilitation, and multicultural factors concerning persons with disabilities.  The faculty speaks very highly of Ysasi’s academic and research skills and say that he dives into all issues related to disability with a deep intrinsic passion.
Ysasi is also currently serving as the Chair of the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association (ARCA)- Council on Public Policy, Legislation, and Human Rights.
Ysasi will be presented with the award at the American Counseling Association’s annual conference in March 11-15 in Orlando, Florida.
Read more about the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association here.

“It was a completely life-changing experience, there was a lot of turmoil going on in my life and I had a lot of uncertainty,” Garcia recalled when diagnosed with colon cancer in December 2010. “Luckily enough, I was very blessed with great providers. They really made a difference in my life and I realized then that’s where I needed to be.”

The Brownsville native was treated at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston where he underwent surgery Jan. 5, 2011. A week after his recovery, Garcia, who received his bachelor’s in biology from the University of Texas at Brownsville in 2009, decided it was time to start a new path. After returning to UTB to complete a prerequisite course, Garcia was able to enroll in UTPA’s Physician Assistant (PA) program fall 2012.

“I felt like God was trying to redirect me to do something else, to be of more help to others, and at that moment I decided to go back to school,” he said.

Last year Garcia, who graduated from UTPA in December 2014, participated in a clinical rotation the same place that saw his speedy recovery. At MD Anderson, Garcia gained hands-on experience as a PA and was able to walk away with a job offer.

Garcia said UTPA’s PA program prepared him for the elective rotation at MD Anderson. In 2012, the U.S. News and World Report ranked UTPA’s physician assistant program 38th out of 164 accredited programs.

“Initially it was a bit intimidating being around the best in the world and being at such a huge center,” Garcia said. “After 30 minutes I knew I belonged and that I was well prepared because of Mr. Frank Ambriz (PA program director) and the leadership he has provided for the program. Any PA that comes from UTPA comes out prepared to work anywhere in the country.”

Garcia was named recipient of the 2015 Erin Scott Courageous Spirit Award by MD Anderson, which is an award presented to a colon cancer survivor who demonstrates courage and a positive spirit in spite of their illness. The award will be presented to Garcia March 28 at the annual Sprint for Colorectal Oncology Prevention and Education (SCOPE) 5K Fun Run/Walk.

“Going through cancer is definitely not easy and it can definitely affect the mindset of one person,” Garcia said. “This award is probably the most meaningful and most important for me just because it shows the effort that I’ve put trying to overcome a terrible situation and trying to turn it into something good.”

Garcia ended 2014 on a positive note, being one of the select few to be inducted into the Pi Alpha Honor Society, the national honor society for physician assistant students and graduates. “I think that being in the medical field, we are assigned a duty to help others,” Garcia said. “I definitely believe every person has the ability to become whatever they want — they just have to find that passion that fuels their motivation.”

The COHSHS RN to BSN Program was just ranked #48 out of over 700 programs nationally by RNtoBSN.org


Marc Geller, a second-year student at The University of Texas-Pan American’s Physician Assistant Program, was one of the select few students in the U.S. to  travel this fall to Washington, D.C., to learn more on advocacy, leadership and PAs in the health care environment.

Geller, along with nine physician assistant students from across the nation, participated in the Physician Assistant Education Association’s (PAEA) inaugural Student Health Policy Fellowship. The PAEA was established in 1972 and is the only national organization in the country to represent PA educational programs.

The purpose of the fellowship is to foster leadership and advocacy skills and enhance students’ understanding of political processes and health policies. The workshops held throughout the three-day event featured prominent members of the health policy community and served as a learning and networking opportunity for Geller. Afterward, the fellows visited elected officials and congressional staff on Capitol Hill. Geller said meeting with lawmakers and legislative assistants to discuss the importance of funding for the PA profession was the highlight of the trip.

“It was a great experience,” Geller said. “They (PAEA) want people not just to be practitioners taking care of patients but to also be able to be effective advocates for health reforms, changes in health policy and to sort of encourage people to play a leadership role in health care in the United States.”

To further their advocacy skills, participants will work on individual projects focusing on promoting health care, education and advocacy. Geller, along with a fellow PAEA from Texas, is planning to give a student presentation at the upcoming spring conference of the Texas Academy of Physician Assistants, titled “Make Waves, not Noise: Engage Your Local Government.” He said the idea is to share with others some of the knowledge and insight gained from his fellowship experience.

Geller, a former journalist with a bachelor’s in psychology, said a visit to the doctor’s office prompted his interest in pursuing the PA field after realizing he had been treated by a PA, not a doctor. Geller, who received encouragement by his instructor to apply for the competitive fellowship, believes UTPA’s PA program is ideal for individuals interested in health care.

“I’m happy now to be returning to the health field,” Geller said. “The PA program, I’ve it heard it described before as sort of the hidden gem of Pan Am and it really is. The faculty is very receptive and responsive to us and is constantly looking for ways to improve this program.”

After graduation next year, Geller expects to launch his career as a PA in primary care under the National Health Service Corps scholarship where scholars are assigned to work in areas with health-care professional shortages.

To learn more about the PAEA Student Health Policy Fellowship, visit www.paeaonline.org/.

Shawn SaladinMcALLEN— Being born hard of hearing, Shawn Saladin of Edinburg remembers the isolation and lack of understanding that comes with being partially deaf.

Years later, and with several college degrees at hand, those struggles have given him the opportunity to represent students dealing with deafness throughout Texas.

Saladin, associate dean of research and academic affairs at The University of Texas Pan American’s college of health science and human services, was recently appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to the governing board of the Texas School for the Deaf, where he will begin serving next month until January 2017.

TSD works as a state agency to provide education to children who are deaf, hard of hearing or with multiple disabilities ages until 21 years of age.

The school’s bylaws mandate five out of nine board members must be deaf, parents of children who are deaf, or professionals working with the deaf.

“It’s really a huge honor,” he said. “The three things I’m supposed to do are teach, research and serve. And this really ties those three things together.”

For the past 10 years, Saladin has been serving as gubernatorial appointee for several committees such as the Rehabilitation Council of Texas and Governor’s Committee of People with Disabilities, where he continues to be a member.

Saladin has been researching ways to help bring quality education into school programs for the deaf and widen the range of resources available so that they can lead a more independent lifestyle. He is a co-developer of UTPA’s project Valley I-CAN— Valley Independent Confident Activities Network— where students volunteers help individuals who need sign language translations and tutoring.

“I want these people to know that we can figure out ways for them to have more control over their lives so that they can realize their hopes and dreams,” Saladin said.

As a new board member, he said he wants to figure out ways to reach out to people in need, especially in the Rio Grande Valley where as many as 8,000 people are deaf of hard of hearing. Only a handful of them are students, he said.

“I want to show what the school for the Deaf can offer to the Valley,” Saladin said. “Make sure that all children end up with a proper education.”

Published Article

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For the second year in a row, The University of Texas-Pan American ranks No. 4 in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to Hispanics nationwide according to an annual report published in October by Diverse Issues in Higher Education. UTPA also ranked No. 6 in the number of graduate degrees across all disciplines awarded Hispanics.

The University of Texas-Pan American ranks No. 4 in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to Hispanics nationwide according to an annual report published in October by Diverse Issues in Higher Education. UTPA also ranked No. 6 in the number of graduate degrees across all disciplines awarded Hispanics.

The magazine’s annual “Top 100 Degree Producers” published in the magazine’s Oct. 9 issue, are based on 2012-13 data provided by the U.S. Department of Education.              

“The rankings represent the University’s commitment to promoting excellence in everything that we do, and in particular, in recruiting, retaining, serving and graduating Latino/a students,” said UTPA President Ad Interim Dr. Havidán Rodríguez.

In addition to UTPA’s rankings in awarding bachelor’s and graduate degrees across all disciplines, the report shows UTPA ranks No. 1 in awarding bachelor’s degrees in Health Professions and Related Programs,  No. 2 in the bachelor’s degrees to Hispanics in English Language and Literature/Letters, and No. 3 in bachelor’s degrees to Hispanics in Biological and Biomedical Sciences. The 388 graduates earning bachelor’s degrees in Health Professions and Related Programs represented a 40 percent increase from the 2011-12 academic year.

UTPA also ranks No. 1 in awarding master’s degrees to Hispanics in the following areas: Allied Health Diagnostic, Intervention, and Treatment Professions; Mathematics and Statistics; and Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Professions. The 17 master’s graduates in math and statistics represented a 183 percent increase from the prior academic year.

The University awarded 2,446 undergraduate degrees to Hispanic students in 2012-13 representing 89 percent of all UTPA bachelor’s degrees awarded that academic year. In 2012-13, 616 graduate degrees – at all levels – were awarded to Hispanic students attending UTPA, representing 80 percent of the graduate degrees awarded.

Other academic disciplines at UTPA that ranked among the top 10 undergraduate degrees awarded Hispanics include the following:

  • No. 4 – Communication Disorders Sciences and Services; Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Firefighting and Related Protective Services; Mathematics and Statistics ; and Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies
  • No. 5 – Psychology
  • No. 6 – Parks, Recreation, Leisure and Fitness Studies
  • No. 7 – Accounting and Related Services; and Public Administration and Social Services Professions
  • No. 8 – Engineering; and Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics

Also, the following additional academic disciplines at UTPA ranked in the top 10 for awarding master’s degrees to Hispanics:

  • No. 2 – English Language and Literature/Letters; and Health Professions and Related Programs
  • No. 3 – Communication Disorders Sciences and Services; History; and Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies
  •  No. 4 – Accounting and Related Services
  • No. 7 – Communication, Journalism and Related Programs; and Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics;
  • No. 9 – Public Administration and Social Service Professions

For a complete list of the rankings, along with the methodology used, visit  http://diverseeducation.com/top100/.

On Oct. 16 The University of Texas-Pan American had a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the new College of Health Sciences and Human Services Social Work and Occupational Therapy (SWOT) Building. UTPA renovated the former bookstore building on the corner of University Drive and Miguel A. Nevárez Drive (N. Fourth Avenue) to accommodate those programs.

Currently there are about 300 undergraduate students and 160 graduate students in the social work program and about 50 students in the occupational therapy program.

Students said they like the new space.

“It’s easy when we have classes here, so if we have any questions we can go to (the faculty members’) offices as well,” said Jessica Garcia, a senior in the social work program.

Dr. John Ronnau, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services, said the new space for the programs was the culmination of teamwork throughout the university.

“It has been a monumental effort on the part of our faculty, on the part of social work and occupational therapy faculty who were involved early on in the programming of this building … And of course it happened because of fantastic teamwork with other divisions on campus” Ronnau said. “We would not be having this conversation if it weren’t for the support of our administration and, at a time when resources are in short supply (and) buildings are in short supply, they saw the tremendous growth in this college, with tremendous growth in each program, and allocated a building to this college.”

The college also introduced its new chair of the Department of Social Work, Dr. Sudershan Pasupuleti, who came to UTPA from The University of Toledo in Ohio, where he served as the undergraduate program director.

Pasupuleti is a recipient of the Hartford Faculty Scholar Award from the Gerontological Society of America. He holds a Master of Arts and a Master of Philosophy in social work from the Delhi School of Social Work, a Ph.D. from Osmania University and a graduate certificate in geriatric practice from the University of Toledo.

Pasupuleti said he is excited to be at UTPA and is looking forward to the start of UTRGV. He said his hope is that the Social Work program will be a catalyst in helping the community.

“I do feel that this department has great potential and the community is in great need of the services of social workers,” he said.”The social work department not only is preparing the professionals to get into some of the social worker roles, but also making a difference in the community.”

In July, she took the job as executive director of the Family Crisis Center in Harlingen.

“I want to create awareness about what we do and about domestic violence,” Catchings said. “People tell me, ‘I’ve never heard of (the center). I didn’t know it existed.’ People see the sign and they don’t know what it is. They don’t know what services we offer.”

Catchings holds a master’s degree in clinical social work from the University of Texas-Pan American. She took the position after serving two years as supervisor for the state Department of Family Protective Services in Laredo.

Now she oversees an organization with a staff of 21, with offices in Harlingen and Raymondville and a shelter that helps domestic violence victims.

The organization also runs Repeat Performance, a thrift shop at 124 W. Jackson Ave. that offers clothes to victims of domestic violence, she said.

High rates of domestic violence plague homes across South Texas, Catchings said.

“Here in the Valley, we have one of the highest statistics — the numbers are extremely high,” Catchings said. “It’s one of the main problems we experience.”

And the area’s high rate of alcohol abuse fuels violence, she said.

“Domestic abuse and alcohol abuse — I think those are the two main problems affecting the community,” she said. “I think it goes hand-in-hand with alcohol abuse.”

Catchings called domestic violence a “learned behavior” children pick up from their parents.

“Kids grow up seeing mom and dad have a violent relationship, so they grow up doing the same thing,” she said

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