Texas Tech’s ‘medical school’ proves West Texans know what they’re doing

As a boy, I remember taking a long ride into Lubbock. Frightened, I held my great-grandmother’s hand the whole way.

What I knew was that some people cutting my grandmother’s chest open to fix her sick heart. What I observed was that grown-ups were much better at bridling their imaginations at all that could go wrong in such a scenario.

Walking sidewalks shadowed by tall medical district structures made me quiver all the more. Up in the waiting room, I asked my Ninnie how she knew her daughter would be OK.

She pointed north through the windows, towards big buildings I would later know as the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

“The people working on your Grandmother Betty learned in those buildings,” she said. “They know what they’re doing.”

Those people proved her right.

That memory has come to mind in recent weeks as I’ve read news about an initiative devised within those big buildings, and how it’s being touted by Gov. Greg Abbott as part of a solution to one of the country’s gravest concerns: school shootings.

The construction of Texas Tech’s medical school, later to become Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, in the summer of 1975. Image via TTUHSC.

In the wake of the deaths of eight students and two teachers at Santa Fe High School in May, Abbott turned the state’s attention to TTUHSC’s Telemedicine, Wellness, Initiative, Triage and Referral (TWITR) program. An initiative in which licensed professional counselors enter school districts to partner with and train faculty and staff to screen and prevent at-risk students from committing violent acts. Abbott has pointed to TWITR as a core component of a model he is seeking implement statewide.

“We have now screened close to 42,000 students in 10 districts around Lubbock,” TTUHSC President Tedd Mitchell told me. “Of those, we’ve had about 400 referrals that have come into our counselors.”

Often utilizing a telemedicine technology that is like a HIPPA compliant version of Skype, half of TWITR’s referrals have been transferred to psychiatry, and 25 students have been removed from their schools.

“Of those 400 students that were initially referred, truancy rates improved significantly, by close to 20 percent, and GPAs went up,” Mitchell said, adding that referrals for discipline also fell by about 25 percent.

Prior to Santa Fe, plans were underway to launch TWITR in Amarillo next year and possibly Permian Basin thereafter, all part of TTUHSC’s mission to perform service to communities in the region.

Which brings me back to my boyhood. I can recall stories of how this part of the world had to fight to build those big buildings. Stories about how the man on my grandmother’s emery boards (former Lubbock state Rep. Delwin Jones) and the statue of the man in a hat at Tech (former Gov. Preston Smith) helped make it happen.

Later I learned the specifics of those political battles. How the University of Texas obstructed a medical school for Tech in the 1960s, arguing it could pipeline doctors across Interstate 35 and up the Caprock. Once lawmakers understood the pipeline was a pipe dream, they approved the medical school, only to have it vetoed by Gov. John Connally. A session later, the new governor, Preston Smith, told U.T. politicos and stakeholders they could have a new medical school in Houston if West Texas got one in Lubbock.

Today, TTUHSC buildings fill skylines in Lubbock, Amarillo, Midland, Odessa, Abilene and even Dallas, producing more medical professionals than any other entity in Texas, in the midst of growing statewide doctor shortage. Professionals who working to ease all sorts of anxieties – from parents of school-age children to grandchildren in waiting rooms

In the months ahead, we’ll hear more 50-year-old pipeline arguments. Specifically as it pertains to vet schools. But that’s another column for another time.

For now, suffice it to say, if given fair resources, West Texans can help lead the state, even the country, in producing people who know what they’re doing.

[This column originally appeared in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal]

 

Jay Leeson’s radio program can be heard weekdays 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on AM 580 Lubbock and OtherSideofTexas.com. His email address is jay@othersideoftexas.com. Twitter @jayleeson.

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