Cris Rivera

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Making a difference in the world means helping to improve lives. Growing up in the RGV and having a strong foundation of support through family, friends, and mentors, Cris Rivera knew she was capable of making a difference.

She chose to do so through following her dreams of pursuing a career in healthcare where she could help people who are at their most vulnerable. One of her earlier positions was as a lab supervisor at Rio Grande Regional Hospital. Over 40 years later, she soon plans to retire from this very hospital in her position as CEO.

“That doesn’t mean I will not continue to contribute to the health of the people of the RGV,” she said. “Because of the commitment I have here, having been born and raised, it will always be a part of my life. I have had very good fortune and have been blessed in having a career that gave me an opportunity to help the people of the RGV.”

Before returning to the Valley just over a decade ago, Rivera held CEO positions in hospitals in Louisiana and Kansas. Though the region and state varied, each facility in which she served — including Rio Grande Regional Hospital — is affiliated with HCA Healthcare.

“My vision has always been to be able to see the RGV as one large region, each city supporting each other,” Rivera said. “As I returned 10 years ago, as a matter of fact, I did see that. I’m really looking forward to that type of approach to continue growing and expanding.”

In her time with RGRH, Rivera has made vast progress in making healthcare more accessible to the community at large. She and her team created a “hub and spoke” model, with the hospital serving as the hub and smaller, dispersed facilities as the spokes.

Those spokes include freestanding emergency departments, urgent care centers, OB clinics, family practice clinics, medical laboratories, and more.

“The reason we want to be accessible is because we want our community to be able to get the healthcare they need at the time that they need it,” she said. “It’s so important for people to feel comfortable to go and get the care that they need. Now, if for whatever reason, they do need a higher level of care, then of course they can come to the main hospital.”

Rivera takes pride in having returned to serve her hometown community by chipping away at the stigma that one must leave the Valley to receive the proper, quality medical care they need.

“I always found that disturbing, and so when I had an opportunity to work in Houston, I started to think about when I would be able to come back home and bring my vision,” she said.

Part of the vision was recruiting others who had left the RGV back home. The hospital works closely with local colleges and universities to do so.

“Having that integration makes it more cohesive,” she said.

Rivera shared it was one of her mentors that encouraged her to return.

“We have a very cohesive culture, and we want to take care of each other,” she said. “We want to take care of our friends and family. As professionals, we want to be able to do this above all else. We are committed to the care and improvement of human life.”

This proved especially true when COVID hit. Every single hospital in the region was being overwhelmed with patients and difficult decisions had to be made, fast. Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez united the CEOs of every local health system to work collaboratively and tackle the crisis as best as they could.

“We were all in support of each other in order to come together and care for the people of the RGV,” she said.

Though she will soon enter retirement after a 45-year career spent making strides in healthcare, Rivera plans to continue serving the community through advisory roles. Outside of this passion, she looks forward to travel plans and spending more time with her two grandchildren.

“My legacy will be that I did make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “I am so pleased to have made a full circle and come back home to be able to serve this community that I so very much love.

“I hope my legacy will continue and that others will pick up where I left off and continue improving the care that is being provided in order to improve lives in every possible respect.”

Rocio Villalobos