Assemblymember Adam Gray and Rep. Jim Costa gave Sen. Alex Padilla a glimpse of the future of healthcare in the Valley.

California’s newest US Senator came to the University of California, Merced on Sept. 17 for a medical education roundtable to discuss plans for a state-of-the-art medical education building in the midst of the most modern campus in America. It would have a prominent place on a gleaming campus filled with 10,000 students and faculty.

“This campus is proof that actions speak louder than words,” Gray said. “We’re proud to show Senator Padilla – or anyone else – what we’re achieving here.”

A medical school has been envisioned for the campus since its inception. And the need to find more doctors for the Valley is undeniable.

Chancellor Juan Sanchez Munoz told those participating in a medical education roundtable that the Valley is “conspicuously underserved” with far fewer general practitioners and nurses and only a faction of the specialists that treat the rest of California.

A 2018 study conducted at the request of Assemblymember Gray demonstrated the chasm between the availability of medical treatment in California’s urban areas and the San Joaquin Valley. Gray has often highlighted the Valley’s stark health care workforce shortage, including that there are 3 times more doctors for each Bay Area resident than for residents of the Valley.

“Health care disparities kill,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Gregg Camfield. “Working on these disparities is part of our mission.”

Padilla and Costa are both involved with negotiations in Washington on budget and infrastructure bills which have taken on greater importance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed some 675,000 Americans.

“Health care is critical infrastructure,” said Sen. Padilla. “Our focus is on equity (and) institutions like this are ground-zero in building that.”

Munoz pointed out that enrollment in healthcare majors is up 333 percent in the past year. “This is a snapshot of doing what the UC was put in the Valley to do – care for the health and welfare of the people of this Valley.”

“With a lot of effort and a lot of creativity, we built this campus,” said Gray, who began working on its planning well before he was elected to the State Assembly. “Now it’s time to take that next step.”

With Gov. Gavin Newsom’s support, Gray and other Valley representatives secured $15 million per year in the 2020 State Budget to open a UCSF branch campus operated jointly by UC Merced and UCSF-Fresno.

Plans for a new classroom building dedicated to the branch campus and behavioral sciences are deep in the conversation stage. Additional resources are needed to make it a reality.

“We’ve got papers, we’ve got bills, we’ve got budgets,” said Padilla, who served as California’s Secretary of State before being appointed to the U.S. Senate by Gov. Newsom. “But this reminds us that what this is really about is people.”

And clearly, said Gray and Costa, the pandemic has demonstrated that people living in the Valley need help.

As Betsy Dumont, Dean of the School of Natural Sciences said during the medical roundtable, “All of these things that will come with the passage of time need work now.”