A Hopeful Development in Northeast Texas

One of my favorite things about the UT System is that with fourteen institutions, we have a whole bunch of “hometowns.” But nowhere are we more enmeshed in the life of a community than in Tyler – and in fact, the entire Northeast Texas region. Just this week, UT Tyler will send a fresh batch of graduates into the world to do great things. And of course, for more than 70 years, UT Health Northeast has been a critically important piece of the region’s medical ecosystem.

Nobody knows their neighbors and their needs better.

With the vast majority of Texas doctors concentrated in our big cities, one consequence has been disparity in access to care in Northeast Texas.

Mortality rates in Northeast Texas are higher than the rest of Texas, and higher than the rest of the country. In 2014, had Northeast Texas mortality rates been the same as in Texas overall, there would have been 2,615 fewer preventable deaths. Cancer is a particular concern. In 2012, compared to the Texas as a whole, cancer incidence rates in the region were 9% higher, and mortality rates were 14% higher.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that additional help has arrived. Just last week, UT Health Northeast and UT MD Anderson Cancer Center announced an agreement to partner in providing greater access to the most advanced cancer care available for the people of Northeast Texas (as well as the parts of Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas that UT Health Northeast serves). This agreement is an element of the Health Care Enterprise Quantum Leap we have launched, aimed at collaboratively scaling and leveraging the strengths of all six of UT’s health institutions for the good of the state. It follows a similar agreement announced last month between MD Anderson – universally recognized as a world-leader in cancer care – and UT Health San Antonio.

Through this new affiliation, UT Health Northeast’s Cancer Treatment and Prevention Center has become part of the MD Anderson Cancer Network, and will henceforth be known as UT Health Northeast MD Anderson Cancer Center.

I think it’s fair to say that cancer is a disease that touches all of us in one way or another. It doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is, or if you’re rich or poor. And it doesn’t matter if you live in a big city or a small town.

At our eight academic institutions, one of the fundamental principles we believe in, and try to live up to – although we are less successful than we ought to be – is the notion that geography should not determine a person’s destiny. That every young person – regardless of zip code – ought to have a shot at a great education. We haven’t reached that goal yet, but we’re working on it, in a variety of ways.

We are working toward the exact same goal when it comes to access to world-class health care. Where you live won’t determine whether or not you, your family, friends or neighbors get cancer – and it shouldn’t determine whether or not you receive the quality care needed to beat it.

This time of year is sometimes referred to as the Season of Hope, and I can’t think of a more hopeful prospect than the brilliant professionals of UT Health Northeast and MD Anderson Cancer Center working side by side – a cohesive team of teams – making a huge difference for our neighbors and friends in Northeast Texas.

I want to thank you, as always, for reading. I’ll write again soon.