By Jason P. Olivarri – Contributing Writer/Southside Reporter
Robert Treviño, a prominent physician and researcher, has fought an uphill battle against the healthcare industry’s ugly side. He tries to expose it in his new book, “Forgotten Children: A True Story of How Politicians Endanger Children.”
Treviño, 58, is president of the South Alamo Medical Group, which operates five clinics in some of San Antonio’s poorest communities.
Treviño said he felt compelled to write “Forgotten Children” to expose the greed, corruption, and favoritism he witnessed at the state and federal levels of the healthcare industry.
“Refraining treatment from an individual to profit is the most unethical greed that I’ve ever seen,” said Treviño, who grew up on San Antonio’s South Side in the Lavaca neighborhood.
Around 10 years ago, Treviño developed the Bienestar/NEEMA school health program with a goal of lowering the odds x of Hispanic children developing Type 2 diabetes.
Treviño’s work has been funded by the National Institute of Health, and he’s published studies that show the benefits of the Bienestar/ NEEMA program.
But Treviño fought for years against state agencies and political forces that he said unfairly favored another school-based program called Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH).
The CATCH program was developed and marketed by physicians from the University of Texas Health Science Center-Houston.
Using blood sugar testing, physical education, and informational literature, the Bienestar/NEEMA program strived to show school children, parents and school cafeteria programs the importance of healthy-eating and portion control.
Despite positive results, Treviño said he would have to face and overcome several opponents between 1997 and 2004 before Bienestar/ NEEEMA was instituted in many South Texas school districts.
The Texas Department of Health was the first obstacle. They wouldn’t fund Bienestar/NEEMA’s curriculum.
According to Treviño, they were already leaning toward the University of Texas Health Science Center-Houston’s CATCH program.
Though grant review committees are supposed to be non-biased in their decision-making, Treviño said many were already favoring CATCH to where they not only funded it, but also protected it from competition.
Former Texas Department of Health Commissioner Dr. William Archer told Treviño he would never have the Bienestar/NEEMA program in Texas, Treviño said.
Ironically, Archer was also from the Houston area.
“So it was just a very muddy grant process,” Treviño said.
Following a series of remarks Archer made regarding race and letters sent by Treviño questioning his support of CATCH, he eventually resigned, leaving the door open for Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, to take his place.
Sanchez, like Archer, did not last long, resigning after only three years though he gave $4 million to the CATCH program during his tenure.
Shortly thereafter, Sanchez emerged again, this time with a job with the UT-Houston School of Public Health that introduced the CATCH program. As to why CATCH was given such high precedence over Bienestar/NEEMA, Treviño said in his book that much of it had to do with the greed of a $174 billion diabetes healthcare industry.
“So can you imagine if a program (like Bienestar/NEEMA) came that was able to impact and decrease and stop the disease, what would happen to the industry?” Treviño asked.
The Texas Educational Agency (TEA) review board and even the federal Center for Disease Control both influenced the funneling of the annual $17 million for health curriculums to CATCH. They also denied Bienestar/NEEMA and other programs grant funding.
Eventually, the TEA finally gave Treviño permission in 2004 to put Bienestar/NEEMA within Texas school districts.
Above all, Treviño hopes his first-hand account will convince people to take control of their own health as well as their children’s, and not lay that responsibility on the government or pharmaceutical companies.
And in the discovery process, hopefully shed more light on why certain healthcare curriculums were given preference over others.
“I’m hoping the readers, the audience, the new cabinet, our new administration comes into Texas and investigates these events (between Benestar/NEEMA and CATCH),” Treviño said.
For information on purchasing a copy of “Forgotten Children: A True Story of How Politicians Endanger Children,” visit Presa Publishing at 1103 S. Presa St. or call 531-1414. There will also be a book signing from 6-9 p.m. on Saturday at Azuca Nuevo Latino Restaurant, second floor, 713 S. Alamo St.