Laguna Vista residents lament pending closure of UT Health clinic

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A university-operated clinic in Laguna Vista is closing in December after five years of operation, drawing the concern of residents who say the facility filled a gap in medical care in the Laguna Madre area.

UT Health RGV Primary Care at Laguna Vista, a clinic run by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in partnership with the Town of Laguna Vista, first opened on July 25, 2018.

But now the clinic is closing because it can’t afford to stay open due to a lack of patients, according to a joint statement from UT Health RGV and Laguna Vista officials.

“This was an extremely difficult decision to make because of the positive impact the clinic has had on the community, but after careful consideration both UT Health RGV and the Town of Laguna Vista mutually agree that it is no longer financially feasible to keep the clinic open due to ongoing low daily patient volumes,” the statement read.

In recent years the clinic has not met the necessary patient numbers, officials have said.

According to Joe Galvan, deputy chief legal officer for UT Health RGV, the clinic has seen around 2,200 patients per year which is not enough to keep the clinic operational.

He explained that the approximate annual costs are about $500,000, and that in order for the clinic to remain open it would have to see around 5,000 patients per year, or 20 per day.

Although the clinic is scheduled to close by Dec. 1, officials are attempting to make the transition for patients “as smooth as possible” by providing residents a list of alternative facilities.

Natalie Ruiz, 75, who has lived in Laguna Vista since 2018, is among several community members who voiced their concerns about the clinic’s closure.

When she first moved to the Valley from New Jersey, she was treated in the clinic for a swollen gland that she recalled causing severe pain on the left side of her face. In hopes of finding some pain relief, she reached out to the clinic.

The UT Health RGV clinic in Laguna Vista seen in this undated photo. (UTRGV Photo)

“I just called that clinic and I went there and registered, and Goldie Strader … she is the professional nurse there, she immediately diagnosed it as an inflamed swollen gland,” Ruiz said.

She recalled Strader staying in contact with the clinic doctor who helped her identify the best treatment. The team gave Ruiz antibiotics and prescribed medication to help with the swelling.

“It was a miracle. Three hours later it was considerably down,” Ruiz said, adding that she later found out that if she had not received immediate treatment it could have caused issues with her swallowing.

Not only was the clinic providing immediate treatment for the gland but they also helped by referring residents to the necessary specialists.

That’s what occurred in Ruiz’s case, as she was told she had a gastric bacterial infection during another visit at the clinic and was referred to a specialist in Harlingen.

She felt as though she was in good hands.

“They were extremely diligent and professional,” Ruiz said, adding that the clinic made access to care easier for those in the area.

She explained the clinic’s staff would often follow up with patients after their appointments with the specialists.

Patient care such as this prompted concerned citizens in Laguna Vista to lament the news of the clinic’s closure.

For Ruiz, the clinic, although not an emergency care facility, provided initial care such as diagnosis, making referrals to specialists and following up with patients.

In this undated photo, the inside of the UT Health RGV clinic in Laguna Vista is shown. (UTRGV Photo)

According to Ruiz, the clinic helped various community members with diabetes diagnoses, strokes, heart attacks as well as infections. She explained that the resident doctor was also able to diagnose a patient with prostate cancer and refer them to the proper specialist.

“It’s such a great access for level one (care),” Ruiz said. “They were a super convenient, one-stop medical access shop.”

Ralston Creswell, 72, who has been living in Laguna Vista for six years, recalled when he first attended the clinic and how it helped save his life.

In 2021, he was rushed to the clinic after his Apple Watch began alerting him that his heart rate was in an atrial fibrillation state, an irregular heart rhythm that can lead to blood clots in the heart.

The clinic was able to confirm the irregular heart rate and urged him to get to an emergency room as soon as possible.

“I would not be here today if that clinic was not here,” Creswell said.

Moments like this are what Creswell believes emphasized the positive impact the clinic had in the area due to its close proximity to its residents.

“The quality of the healthcare team from Dr. Manusov to Goldie Strader to Johnathan, who’s a medical assistant to Julia the receptionist, is first class,” Creswell said. “The healthcare team that was there was incredible and you don’t get that everywhere.”

He also attributes low-patient volumes to the location of the clinic and lack of signage.

“It’s in a little nook and cranny on a strip center,” Creswell said, adding that the clinic only has one faded sign on the strip center where the clinic is located. “People have driven up and down the road trying to find it (the clinic).”

Outside the UT Health RGV clinic in Laguna Vista in this undated photo. (UTRGV Photo)

For Creswell, the clinic’s lack of community involvement also affected patient volumes.

“People basically did not know that they were there so they went to Brownsville, Harlingen, to a PA (physician’s assistant) in Port Isabel instead of right here in this community,” Creswell said.

With the clinic’s closure, he believes the closest clinic to the area is a medical clinic in Port Isabel and the UT Health RGV clinic in Harlingen which he explained is a 45-mile drive from Laguna Vista.

“I just wish that the city staff and leadership and the UTRGV staff and leadership had been more open and transparent with the patients and citizens of this community,” Creswell said.

Although UTRGV have said that they’ll work with patients to transition patients to other clinics, some remain concerned.

“People are scrambling,” Ruiz explained, adding that residents want to know where the staff will be going in hopes of continuing their care with them.

Attempts to reach Laguna Vista officials for comment have been unsuccessful as of press time.