Donor Helps Bring Change to West Texas

El Paso del Norte Conference Event

For more than two decades, the Paso del Norte Health Foundation (PdNHF) has supported health and wellness in the Paso del Norte region — contributing more than $152 million to the cause. Now, thanks to its largest grant yet to Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso), the foundation’s reach will go even further.


Established in 1995, the PdNHF is known as one of the largest foundations on the U.S.-Mexico border, giving out some $10 million a year to support pressing regional health needs.


The generous funding has left a clear mark on the region over the years.  


The PdNHF’s A Smoke Free Paso del Norte initiative helped promote the policy that made El Paso one of the first smoke-free cities, and smoking rates have since dropped from 24 to 13 percent. More recently, the foundation tackled another drug: alcohol. Grant funding from the PdNHF led to the finding that alcohol is the drug of choice among El Paso youth, prompting the city to crack down on underage drinking and set stricter ordinances and fines.


By supporting initiatives that change health for the better in the Paso del Norte region, the foundation has played an integral role in establishing the county’s track record of healthy living.


“We are proud to partner with and invest in TTUHSC El Paso,” says Tracy J. Yellen, CEO of the PdNHF. “In addition to other collaborative efforts with TTUHSC El Paso, a dental school will increase the awareness and importance of oral health and its relationship to chronic disease and train the next generation of health leaders in our region.”


In October, PdNHF Board Chair Jose Prieto, M.D. and Yellen announced a $6 million grant for TTUHSC El Paso’s up-and-coming Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine (WLHSDM). Once established, the dental school is expected to rectify the severe shortage of dentists in the city. According to a study by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the city currently has about one dentist for every 5,000 residents, compared to the state average of one for every 2,760.


“It is very important to have this local resource [the dental school] in our community,” Yellen explains. “It’s an opportunity for further education for our students; it will train our future workforce; and it will ultimately help El Paso control its own destiny.”


For years, the region relied on dentists from East Texas and out-of-state to relocate to El Paso and set up practice. That approach resulted in little success. Between 2007 and 2011, only 13 graduates — 1.25 percent of all Texas dental school graduates — opted to take up practice in El Paso.


All that, however, should change with the establishment of the WLHSDM, which will produce and retain dentists in the area.


“We are incredibly grateful to the Paso del Norte Health Foundation for supporting us in this endeavor,” said TTUHSC El Paso President Richard Lange, M.D., M.B.A. “Our shared mission of improving the health and quality of life for residents in this bi-national region will only strengthen our cause: to bring a dental school to El Paso that will change the face of health care in West Texas.”


But the dental school grant hasn’t been the only show of support from the PDNHF. Funding from the foundation has been transforming TTUHSC El Paso and the health care landscape of the region for at least a decade.


When TTUHSC first launched a medical school in El Paso, the PdNHF donated $1.25 million to create the Medical Student Loan Program. The goal was to improve El Paso’s dire doctor-to-patient ratio. According to data collected in 2005, El Paso had 126 physicians for every 100,000 people; the national average was 198 physicians per 100,000.


With the help of the grant, TTUHSC El Paso students could be forgiven of their medical school loans — if they returned to practice in the city. Encouraged by the generous offering, 15 students ultimately promised to return to El Paso. 


Later, the foundation provided a $7 million grant to create the Paso del Norte Institute for Healthy Living, which is a regional collaboration that includes TTUHSC El Paso faculty to promote healthy eating and active living in the region. TTUHSC El Paso’s Baby Café, which educates and assists local moms with breastfeeding, has also been able to serve more El Paso women, thanks to funds from the foundation.


“It’s institutions like the Paso del Norte Health Foundation that help us carry out our mission of improving the lives of people in our community,” says Associate Vice Chancellor Victoria Pineda. “There is no doubt that El Paso would not be the same without them.”


Yellen is pleased that the PdNHF can play a role in the vibrancy, growth and contributions that TTUHSC El Paso is making to the region.  


She looks forward to what the university has in store.