Paso del Norte Health Foundation announces leadership gift to TTUHSC El Paso Hunt School of Dental Medicine

August 12, 2021

In celebration of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s 25th Anniversary and its continued work to improve the health of the region, the board of directors recently announced a $11 million grant to the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine.

The Health Foundation’s $11 million commitment is made up of two gifts: a $6 million commitment in 2016 to support the startup phase of the dental school to develop an innovative curriculum, hire world-class faculty, recruit the first class of students, and help leverage state funding, and a second $5 million commitment made this year to support dental school operations and enable the school to be a leader in oral healthcare in the region.
“This leadership commitment will support the dental school and provide important health and economic benefits for our region,” said Lisa Saenz, board chair for the Paso del Norte Health Foundation. “This is an important addition to the healthcare landscape, and we are proud to be a part of its founding and success.”

Over the past 25 years, the Health Foundation has partnered with nonprofit organizations and academic institutions in El Paso, southern New Mexico and Ciudad Juárez, in programs and initiatives designed to improve health including the adoption of an ordinance banning indoor smoking and smoking in public places; building miles of public hike/bike trails; encouraging healthy eating and active living for children and adults; and facilitating resources to promote public health and nonprofit organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We believe that the Health Foundation’s commitment to the new dental school will increase the awareness and importance of oral health, train and educate future dentists to address the shortage of providers for our region, support community dental clinics, provide faculty appointments for local dentists, and contribute to the overall economic growth in the region,” says Tracy J. Yellen, CEO of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation.

In recognition of the Health Foundation’s significant support, the building that houses the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic now bears the Health Foundation’s name. Later this year, a sculpture designed by local artist Julio Sanchez de Alba will be installed in front of the clinic building in the Health Foundation’s honor.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Paso del Norte Health Foundation for supporting us in this endeavor,” says TTUHSC El Paso President Richard Lange, M.D., M.B.A. “Our shared mission of improving the health and quality of life for residents in this binational region has resulted in the first dental school in Texas in over 50 years, that will change the face of healthcare in west Texas.”

“The Paso del Norte Health Foundation was one of the first organizations to join the Hunt Family Foundation in support of our critical effort to establish a dental school in El Paso,” said Hunt School of Dental Medicine Dean Richard Black, D.D.S., M.S. “Their early support and recent grant allowed us to advocate for the school and demonstrate the community’s support to the Texas Legislature and accrediting bodies. The Health Foundation’s investment in the future of our region ensures the education of both El Paso and Texas natives, and allows us to retain talented generations of dentists in west Texas, where only 22 dental school graduates have chosen to practice in the past 10 years. Our health sciences center was founded on philanthropy and continues expanding and achieving our mission through generous community investments and support from our local delegation.”

Poor dental health contributes to various medical conditions including diabetes, cancer, heart and lung disease, stroke, and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Oral disease especially affects the most vulnerable including children and the elderly.

The dental clinic will offer students the opportunity to work alongside Hunt School of Dental Medicine faculty and provide affordable dental services to underserved residents. Only half of El Paso adults visit a dentist every year. In El Paso County, there’s only one dentist for every 4,840 residents, compared to the national average of one dentist for every 1,638.

Additional training opportunities will take place at local private practice offices, as well as partnerships with nonprofits for outreach initiatives to serve hard to reach community members, including homeless and migrant populations.

The first cohort of 40 dental students started in July, with classes growing to 60 students in subsequent cohorts.

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