Regional Shortage? Meet the Local Funder Spearheading A New Dental School

The Hunt Family Foundation of El Paso Texas was established in the late 1980s by Woody and Gayle Hunt. Woody is executive chairman of Hunt Companies, a holding company that invests in businesses in the real estate and infrastructure markets. Gayle, meanwhile, remains active through several nonprofit boards.

The Hunt foundation is specific about the region in which it gives grants. El Paso is one area. Overall, though, the charity prioritizes the Paso del North region. This area includes El Paso County, Texas; Doña Ana County, New Mexico; Otero County, New Mexico; and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México.

This local funder supports various organizations working in areas like healthcare, economic development, the arts, and education. The foundation disbursed around $4 million in a recent tax year. In 2010, the family gave a $10 million gift to Texas Tech University Health Science Center to establish the Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing. Other significant health work includes supporting El Paso Children's Hospital, which received a multiyear $1 million gift, and the FEMAP Foundation, helping build a new facility for the FEMAP School of Nursing in Juarez, Mexico.

Now comes recent news that the Hunt Family Foundation has given a $25 million gift to Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso to create the new Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine. The dental school would be the first to open in Texas in five decades, and the first ever in West Texas on the U.S.-Mexico border. 

As it turns out, El Paso County suffers from a major dentist shortage.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services  classifies it as a dental Health Professional Shortage Area. According to a study by the Texas Department of State Health Services, the county currently has only about one dentist for every 5,000 residents, compared to the state average of one for every 2,760. This translates to approximately 170 dentists serving a population of nearly 860,000.

Additionally, of the three current dental schools in the Lone Star State, all are located more than 500 miles away from El Paso. Collectively, these schools graduate around 300 students a year, yet between 2007 and 2011, only 13 graduates (or 1.25 percent of all Texas dental school graduates) practiced in El Paso.

Woody Hunt says, "[w]e are confident that this dental school will have a significant impact on the Borderplex, the City of El Paso, and the surrounding region... Our immediate goal is to attract bright medical talent and young men and women who are eager to stay in El Paso to practice dentistry. In the longer term, the school will help alleviate oral health problems in our region, as well as serve as a significant enhancement to our overall quality of life in the Borderplex."

This isn't the first time I've written about a regionally focused funder with an eye on the particular issues plaguing their region. Billionaire Denny T. Sanford, for instance, helped establish a major scholarship program in South Dakota to support students at technical schools. And wouldn't you know it, the region has a shortage of welders, engineer technicians, and the like.

Related: What's Welding Got to Do With It? A Billionaire Gives Big for Technical Schools

Related: Hunt Family Foundation: Southwest Grants