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When we think of San Antonio, many things may come to mind: the Alamo, Spurs, River Walk, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, University of Texas at San Antonio, and, of course, our vibrant food and culture scene. Surprisingly, one of the most vital assets in our community is often overlooked; even worse, some San Antonians only come to know about it after an emergency.

I’m alluding to the South Texas Medical Center, a critical economic generator, vital part of our city’s resiliency and an essential element of our community’s character. Every San Antonian should know how the Medical Center serves us and understand what it means to our city.

Since 1944, the South Texas Medical Center, on the city’s Northwest Side in the heart of District 8, has blossomed from 200 acres of bare land to more than 700 acres of development. With 200 acres of undeveloped land, this sprawling medical hub will continue to play an integral role in our economic vitality, and the health and wellness of our population.

In employing tens of thousands of San Antonians, attracting medical investment and tourism, and serving as a training ground for the next generation of medical specialists and front-line workers, there is no question that the Medical Center is critical to our local economy.

The excellent health care provided here — through nine major medical institutions, hundreds of medical offices and UT Health San Antonio — creates a base for medical tourism. It’s estimated more than 5 million people visit the South Texas Medical Center annually.

At UT Health San Antonio, students, faculty and other medical professionals are conducting groundbreaking research, changing the way we approach the treatment of chronic illnesses. Whether it’s inventing the stent, discovering cells that can increase insulin with the potential to treat Type 1 diabetes or championing Alzheimer’s research, UT Health is leading breakthroughs, advancing patient care and training future generations.

In addition to leading research and innovation, UT Health San Antonio is an exceptional training ground for those seeking careers in medicine, dentistry, nursing, the biomedical sciences and other health profession fields. A study of its economic impact in 2013 showed that nearly one-third of the tens of thousands of alumni remain here and help meet San Antonio’s demand for highly skilled labor.

This environment of medical excellence is partly what persuaded the Proton International Center to partner with UT Health and create a proton therapy radiation center. This precision radiation treatment center, which will be staffed by the Mays Cancer Center, uses particle accelerators to beam cancer cells in a procedure that is less impactful to surrounding tissue than chemotherapy. Not only will this public-private partnership increase health equity by improving access in South Texas for cancer treatment, but it will also create jobs and ensure affordable care for those who can’t afford treatment.

Beyond attracting investment and creating jobs, the Medical Center has been pivotal to our local and regional recovery and resiliency in the face of the pandemic and other emergencies. Throughout the last two years, front-line workers in the Medical Center took on some of the greatest burdens to treat an influx of patients. When Hurricane Harvey battered our state’s coastal communities in 2017, San Antonio’s leading hospital systems stepped up to aid countless injured evacuees and managed overflow from hospitals throughout South Texas.

This quality of service is essential to our DNA here in Military City, USA.

To further support the many families who live and work in the Medical Center, the city of San Antonio is working to expand green spaces and improve public infrastructure. Examples include the Floyd Curl Green Street — a safe bike path that has changed the transit conversation there — as well as projects proposed in the 2022 bond such as a $3.25 million park, a greenway trail that will ultimately connect to downtown and improvements to Floyd Curl Drive.

As we look forward to the Medical Center’s future development, let’s recognize it’s more than just a place to visit in a medical emergency or for a doctor’s appointment. It is a place to learn, work, heal, live and thrive, and it is essential to San Antonio.

City Councilman Manny Peláez represents District 8.

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