The Medical Center of the Americas (MCA) Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 2006, has its roots in a vision created by community leaders. The vision was to create an integrated campus of medical facilities in El Paso.
In 1992, a group of civic leaders founded Unite El Paso for the purpose of discussing how to solve the city’s fragmentation in identity and goals. Through Unite El Paso, the idea of establishing a regional border health institute and a four-year medical school in El Paso was identified as one of several major initiatives for a new and more prosperous El Paso.
In February 1998, an El Paso Economic Summit convened. From there, a “Vision Committee for a Border Health Initiative” created an action plan to achieve three objectives:
1) focus health education and research on the border area,
2) develop adequate health professional corps to address border health needs, and
3) create a border health institute.
The Vision Committee consisted of individuals including Myrna Deckert, Jose Rodriguez, Pete Duarte, Woody Hunt (MCA Foundation Founding Board Chairman, 2006-2009), Maria Elena Flood, Elaine Barron, MD, Carlos Gutierrez, MD, John Tune, MD, Diana Natalicio and Eliot Shapleigh.
In 1999, the 76th Texas Legislature adopted Border Health Institute Legislation (HB2025) by the House and Senate. The bill – authored by Joe Pickett, Paul Moreno, Dan Haggerty, Irene Chavez, Manny Najera; and sponsored by Eliot Shapleigh – related to the establishment and operation of the Border Health Institute (BHI).
The 76th Texas Legislature also committed $50 million from the Texas’ tobacco settlement (divided equally between UTEP and Texas Tech in El Paso) to create an endowment fund to begin the BHI’s operations.
2001-2004 ― Incubating the MCA
In 2001, Texas approved $40 million for Texas Tech Univeristy Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) to build a Medical Science Building in El Paso and $11 million for TTUHSC to renovate its clinics in El Paso. That same year, longtime community philanthropists J.O. and Marlene Stewart donated 10.2 acres of land for the medical school, a value reportedly worth $1.4 million. The Paso del Norte Health Foundation also approved $1.25 million for scholarships for local students to attend the medical school.
2001 was also the year that El Paso voters elected attorney Raymond Caballero as their mayor. Mayor Caballero was among El Paso’s civic leaders and visionaries for a large medical complex, known as the BHI.
Plans for the BHI became controversial after December 2001, when Mayor Caballero persuaded city council to create a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district over the BHI area. By some accounts, the BHI consisted of about 800 acres generally located east of downtown, west of Trowbridge and south of Interstate 10. Mayor Caballero later proposed a moratorium on building and a moratorium on the issuance of zoning permits in the area. He also began talking about the possible use of eminent domain to acquire property in the BHI area.
As a result, neighboring residents organized against the city’s TIF district, and by 2002, newspaper headlines read, “Mayor’s big ideas have alienated some” and “Big business leaders decry mayor’s tactics.”
Mayor Caballero was voted out of office by May of 2003; however, before leaving his post, the city had managed to purchase some plots of land, laying the groundwork for what would later be known as the Medical Center of the Americas (MCA). While the BHI remained viable as an organization, it operated quietly and out of public view.
Businessman Joseph Wardy succeeded Mayor Caballero in June 2003. While Mayor Wardy did not share Caballero’s support for developing the BHI medical complex, he did narrow the focus of development to the pursuit of a medical school in El Paso.
Meanwhile, remnants of the BHI development re-surfaced on Aug. 8, 2003 with the release of a report titled “The Feasibility of a Regional Unified Health Sciences Park in El Paso.” The study in summary found that considerable momentum is building for the development of a health sciences park; but, full build-out could take decades and the private sector must play a role. The study made several recommendations, including that a medical research incubator be created. It concluded that a regional health sciences park should be a key priority of El Paso’s economic development plan.
The study was prepared for the city of El Paso and the BHI by Texas Perspectives; but by the time the study was delivered, BHI efforts essentially were in hibernation mode and the development project went quiet for the next two years.
Despite the local political upheaval, the Texas legislature in 2003 authorized $45 million in bonds for TTUHSC to build a Medical Education Building in El Paso, adding momentum to the $40 million it approved in 2001.
2005-2006 ― Incorporating the MCA
In 2005, John F. Cook became mayor of El Paso. Under his administration, the city approached the Paso del Norte Group to initiate the process of incorporating the MCA as a new 501(c)3. Under the leadership of Myrna Deckert, the Paso del Norte Group developed the bylaws and established an MCA Foundation Board of Directors. The Paso del Norte Group would serve as the fiscal agent for the new organization.
Meanwhile, in 2005, El Paso voters pass a $120 million bond to expand and renovate R.E. Thomason Hospital. Thomason added to the bond from its reserves to bring the total worth of expansion and renovations to $154 million. Hospital officials lauded the plan as the largest modernization plan of any El Paso facility in history.
The MCA Foundation’s board first convened on Jan. 3, 2006. The body was charged with moving forward with the plan of an MCA campus where health care, education and research would take place. Real estate developer and prominent El Paso community leader Woody Hunt was selected as founding chairman (2005-2009) to the 13-member body.
By the end of the money, Jan. 31, 2006, a ribbon cutting took place for the medical school’s Medical Science Building 1, the first of three buildings to be built for the medical school. (pictured: Medical Science Building 1]
After months of the Paso del Norte Group handling the day-to-day operations of the MCA Foundation, a search began for an MCA Foundation executive director. On Sept. 7, 2006, Emma W. Schwartz was selected as a consultant to serve as the CEO. One of her first major tasks was to create a master plan for the MCA area.
Along with creating a master plan, Ms. Schwartz and the board also began the important work of repairing relations with MCA neighbors. Residents and business owners were still resistant to the idea of a medical complex in their neighborhood. So, in 2008, Ms. Schwartz and MCA Foundation Board Director Maria Elena Flood walked the neighborhoods, knocked on doors, and talked with residents and business owners.
Master planning accelerated from 2007 to 2011. Through those years, the MCA Foundation held numerous public meetings with outreach supported by the city to maintain transparency and dispel fears. Notably, in 2009, under the chairmanship of Robert E. Skov, the MCA Foundation Board of Directors added an Honorary Director position to which Alfredo Borrego, President of the San Juan Neighborhood Association, was appointed in an effort to increase the MCA’s transparency with the public.
2007-2011 ― Growing the MCA
May 28 – Texas Senate passed HB1, which includes $48 million for the first- and second-year faculty at El Paso’s medical school.
June – The Hunt Family Foundation becomes the MCA Foundation’s largest donor to date with a matching five-year grant of $500,000.
July – The TTUHSC Paul L. Foster School of Medicine receives state funding to operate the first new four-year medical school in Texas in more than 30 years.
Aug. 24 – Paul L. Foster, president and CEO of Western Refining, gives Texas Tech University $50 million to help create El Paso’s new medical school.
Nov. 29 – Ribbon cutting takes place for the medical school’s Medical Education Building, the second of three buildings of the TTUHSC Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. [pictured: Medical Education Building]
Nov. 7 – Voters approve a $120 million bond to build a free-standing nonprofit children’s hospital near University Medical Center, within the MCA area.
Dec. 28 – The MCA Foundation receives its 501(c)(3) status.
This was the year that the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine received provisional accreditation, allowing officials to interview and accept students.
February – The MCA Foundation completes the first of its two-phase MCA Campus Master Plan, which was ultimately incorporated into the City of El Paso's 2025 Comprehensive Plan on Oct. 21, 2008. Phase I of the master plan was critical with regard to public vetting and the winning of public trust.
Oct. 21 – City incorporates 140-acre MCA Master Plan into City’s Comprehensive 2025 Plan
Nov. 20 – R.E. Thomason Hospital breaks ground on a $154 million expansion and renovation project.
Dec. 19 – The BHI Board of Directors give $70,000 to MCA Foundation to help advance Phase II of the MCA Campus Master Plan.
February – Construction begins on the El Paso Children's Hospital, El Paso's first separately licensed children's hospital.
May 6 – The MCA Foundation Board of Directors add “Institutional Directors” to its ranks, giving Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Thomason Hospital and UTEP a vote on the board. Emma Schwartz title is changed from CEO to President/CEO.
July 13 – The 94-year-old R.E. Thomason General Hospital changes its name to University Medical Center of El Paso. UMC, located on the MCA campus, is the primary teaching hospital of the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine.
July 13 – The fully accredited Paul L. Foster School of Medicine opens and seats its first class of 40 entering students. The school is distinguished as the only four-year medical school located on the U.S. international border and the first medical school to open in Texas in nearly 30 years.
The legislature declines to authorize construction bonds for statewide campus projects, including $86 million for two additional buildings at the Foster school; however, it did increase the school's operational funding by $13.5 million for the two-year budget for hire clinical faculty and fund startup packages.
Kent Hance, chancellor of Texas Tech University System, calls for establishing a separate health sciences university in El Paso.
Feb. 18-19 – The MCA Foundation hosts the region’s first-ever National Institutes of Health Symposium where regional institutional leaders such as REDCo, UTEP, TTUHSC, and William Beaumont Army Medical Center gave presentations to NIH representatives.
July – The MCA Foundation enters Phase II of the MCA Campus Master Plan. Phase II involved the SmartCode zoning of the campus, which details all aspects of ground-level design, including architectural design of buildings, zoning standards and specifications, storm water control, transportation and parking plans, and pedestrian accommodations such as street lamps and landscaping. [pictured: MCA campus SmartCode zoning map]
July 19 – Spearheaded by founding editor Noemi Rojas, the MCA Foundation launches Synapse online and publishes its inaugural print edition. Synapse is the first and only publication dedicated to communicating the news of region’s life sciences community.
Aug. 20 – University Medical Center of El Paso introduces Lawrence G. Duncan as the new CEO of the El Paso Children’s Hospital.
Sept. – MCA Foundation hires the Hammes Company and E-Cubed Ventures as consultants for the creation of a four-phase strategic business plan to establish a distinctive biomedical research and technology park on 10+ acres of City of El Paso-owned land. The area is generally located east of Concepcion Street, south of Interstate 10, north of the railroad tracks and west of Chelsea Street.
Sept. 14 – UTEP publicly announces its $200 million fundraising campaign, the largest in the university's history. The campaign, which was initiated in 2007 and set to end Dec. 31, 2014 to coincide with UTEP's 100 anniversary, will assist UTEP attain national research university status.
Sept. 30 – University Medical Center unveils it new Level I Trauma Center.
Oct. 20 – The Hunt Family Foundation gives $10 million to TTUHSC to develop an autonomous, fully accredited nursing school in El Paso – the Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing.
This is when the Texas legislature again declines to authorize construction bonds for campuses across the state; additionally, the Foster school's startup funding is cut by $14.7 million from 2012-13.
January – The MCA Foundation Board of Directors elected Rodolfo Mata as its new chairman.
Feb. 10-18 – About 70 stakeholders and partners from across the region participate in the MCA Foundation’s Phase 1 “Vision and Compact” meeting where it was agreed to commence collaboratively on the development of a biomedical research park.
May 5 – The MCA Foundation and E-Cubed Ventures held meetings with MCA stakeholders, such as UTEP, NMSU, TTUHSC Paul L. Foster School of Medicine and William Beaumont Army Medical Center, to gain consensus on how to move forward as a region in order to achieve our goals for forming a biosciences cluster in the region.
May 19 – University Medical Center unveils its $6.7 million newly expanded ER department.
May 24-25 – The MCA Foundation and E-Cubed Ventures conduct "bio-competency mapping” sessions involving interviews with scientists and researchers throughout the region to gain a understanding of the Paso del Norte’s bioscience strengths, gaps and aspirations.
June 14 – City Council passes “Impact Fund” Policy allocating 75 percent of Electric Company Franchise Fee over the next 19 years to the MCA Foundation in order to accelerate the development of the MCA campus.
June 21 – City Council approves expansion of the MCA Master Plan from 140 acres to 440 acres, which was a requirement defined by SmartCode “ped shed” rules. Council also approved re-zoning the entire 440 acres to SmartCode.
July 15 – Following the May 5th, 24th and 25th meetings and mapping sessions, the MCA Foundation and E-Cubed Ventures convene a meeting of more than 50 life sciences leaders and stakeholders from the region to present the findings, putting into focus the Paso del Norte’s current status as a life sciences community. It is also when a series of proposals were recommended by E-Cubed that will give organization, structure and a platform for success to the region's fledgling life sciences pipeline for taking translational research to the marketplace.
September – The MCA Foundation Board of Directors add Fort Bliss/Beaumont, New Mexico State University and the El Paso Children’s Hospital to its list of Institutional Directors. Meanwhile, the newly accredited Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing seats its first class.
Oct. 18 – City Council approves:
- Lease of 11.7 acres of land, located within the MCA campus, to the MCA Foundation
- Creation of a voluntary Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) over the 440-acre MCA campus.
Oct. 29 – University Medical Center unveils its new, 10-story East Tower in which the future El Paso Children's Hospital will reside.
Feb. 7 -- El Paso City Council approves contract that releases 75 percent of its Impact Fund to the MCA Foundation, amounting to about $3.2 million per year for 19 years to the MCA. The MCA Foundation makes public its plans to use the new money for additional infrastructure on the MCA campus, such as a biomedical research park, and for the creation of programs that will facilitate development of the region's biomedical innovation pipeline. >>click here to read the MCA's plans to use its portion of the city's Impact Fund.
Feb. 14 -- El Paso Children's Hospital opens. University Medical Center of El Paso opens its women's hospital in the same 10-story east tower occupied by the Children's Hospital. [pictured: UMC's all-new East Tower, home of El Paso Children's Hospital and UMC's new women's hospital]
March 20 -- MCA Foundation hold a meeting to discuss the BioMedical Institute of the Americas (BMIA), set a vision for the BMIA and establish next steps.
May 4 -- The BMIA is officially formed.
May -- TTUHSC El Paso begins accepting student applications to enter the new Biomedical Sciences Graduate School.
May -- Texas Tech University System Board of Regents approve the process for establishing a freestanding health sciences university in El Paso. The new university would expand the Texas Tech System from three to four universities.
Aug. 10 -- Texas Tech University System Board of Regents approve the construction of a nursing school building; the MCA Foundation grants $11M to Texas Tech for construction.