Rio Grande Regional marks 35 years

McALLEN — The state of the only McAllen hospital in the 1980s was a topic of much disagreement.

Charles Landrum, now a retired obstetrician, strongly advocated for the sale and replacement of the city-owned hospital, which he believed was in poor condition. However, there was another group of physicians who adamantly opposed the sale of it.

The city commission had a contract ready for the sale of the hospital, with HCA being the top bidder, Landrum said, but the decision was ultimately made by a referendum election. His side lost by fifty votes.

“But HCA, looking at the area and seeing the need, decided to go ahead and build a hospital anyway,” Landrum said.

That’s how Rio Grande Regional Hospital came to be. The facility opened its doors in 1982 — 35 years ago this week.

Landrum became the hospital’s medical director until he retired in 1994.

They assembled a medical staff and among them was Cristina Rivera, the current CEO of Rio Grande Regional. Back then, though, she was the lab supervisor. She later left the hospital but made a triumphant return to lead it 30 years later.

“In 1982 we were able to open the facility from the ground up,” Rivera said, noting it was a 150-bed hospital at the time with about 400 physicians and about 100 employees. “It was a very close-knit family at the time.”

Today, the hospital has 320 beds, over 1,200 employees, and more than 600 physicians with various specialties.

Joining their team isn’t easy. Physicians must meet stringent requirements in order to practice there.

The bylaws, Landrum said, required doctors who wanted to be a member of the staff to be board certified.

“That was a cornerstone of building a really true quality medical staff,” he said.

Those requirements, however, had their drawbacks because it initially made it difficult to recruit doctors in the area.

For Landrum, it was especially tough because for the first two-and-a-half years he lacked a partner in obstetrics.

“I had no one to take care of my patients if I was not around or available,” he said. “So for more than two-and-a-half years I was by myself and did not leave the city for anything because I had a responsibility to take care of my obstetrical patients that I had agreed to take care of.”

A few years later, more OB-GYNs came on board, as well as physicians in other specialties. The hospital has also continued to expand with the addition of the Children’s Medical Center and two free-standing emergency clinics. The first opened in McAllen in 2012, while the second opened in Edinburg in 2015.

“I am a firm believer that we need to have health care accessible to our population,” Rivera said, adding that their staff works closely together to ensure that goal is met. “We were a close-knit family when we started in 1982 and, guess what, we’re still a close-knit family.”