Editorial by Ed Lallo, CEO and Founder of Newsroom Ink, and Editor and Publisher of Health News Texas
D-day for the University of Texas Medical School in Austin has now been set. Despite overwhelming support from local civic and community leaders at the Central Health board’s recent meeting, real questions arise whether proper groundwork has been laid to ensure passage on the November 6th ballot.
Created in May 2004, the overseeing board of Brackenridge Hospital and other Travis county health facilities said it could not pass up a potential federal windfall. It voted unanimously to place a 5-cent property tax increase on the ballot.
The tax referendum—which would up taxes by $0.05 per $100 of assessed property value—would fund community care associated with the proposed UT-Austin medical school.
The tax rate would rise from 7.89 cents per $100 of assessed property value in 2013 to 12.9 cents in 2014. According to an article in the Austin American Statesman, based on an average home in Travis County with a taxable value of $214,567, average bills would rise 63 percent to $107.40.
Why is raising the money important? The federal government will match every $.40 of local funding with $.60 cents of federal money.
According to Central Health, Seton Healthcare Family, the University of Texas and state senator Kirk Watson; local and federal money would go toward educating doctors at the planned UT-Austin Medical School. It would pay faculty, residents and medical school students to treat low-income residents at Travis County’s public clinics and local hospitals.
Funding would also be used to secure a site for a new Brackenridge teaching hospital that Seton Healthcare Family has pledged $250 million toward building.
For more than a year now state Senator Kirk Watson of Austin, has led the charge to build a full-fledged medical program in Austin within 10 years, part of his larger health-related initiative. He successfully formed an unconventional organizing committee of community institutions to develop the public-private partnership.
Watson leadership on the proposal operated on the premise that medical schools post huge health and economic dividends for both the city and state where located. Austin is one of the largest cities in the country featuring a Tier 1 research university without the support of a medical school.
The proposed medical plaza could become the economic engine driving an estimated $2 billion in revenue and bring approximately 15,000 permanent high paying jobs to the Austin area consisting of up to 5,000 physicians, faculty, and associated medical staffs.
Other civic and community leaders have joined Watson’s voice:
- Francisco Cigarroa – University of Texas System, Chancellor
- Ken Shine – University of Texas System, Vice Chancellor
- Greg Fitz – UT-Southwestern Medical Center, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Dean Medical School
- Dr. Sue Cox – UT-Southwestern Medical Center, Regional Dean for Austin Programs
- Bill Powers – University of Texas at Austin, President
- Steve Leslie – University of Texas at Austin, Executive Vice President and Provost
- Charles Barnett – Ascension Health, President Healthcare Operations and COO
- David Huffstutler – St. David’s Healthcare, President and CEO
- Dr. Tom Coopwood – Central Health 2011 Chair
- Rosie Mendoza – Central Health, 2012 Board Member
- Jeff Garvey – Austin Community Foundation, President and CEO
- Clarke Heidrick – Austin Chamber of Commerce, 2012 Chairman
- Tom McHorse – retired physician, Travis County Medical Society
- Guadalupe “Pete” Zamora – family practitioner, Zamora Medical Center
- Doug Ulman – The Livestrong Foundation, CEO
- Lee Leffingwell – City of Austin, Mayor
- Sam Biscoe -Travis County Judge
The unanimous vote by Central Health’s board has now placed the initiative on shakier ground, one that may not prove so friendly – the Austin voter.
Although the economy in Austin is better than most of the country – at least for the moment, a majority of its citizen’s still live on incomes that leave little in the bank at the end of each month.
Asking residence in Barton or Northwest Hills to fork over additional tax money is not the problem. Convincing those living in East Austin and other financially challenged income areas, as well as seniors living on fixed incomes, to give up that trip to a movie, or a special meal out each month, so they might have better healthcare – that is the challenge in challenging economic times.
For the proposal to be successful, it is time for new voices to lead the charge. Political, civic and community leadership need to step aside and let the voices of those that would truly benefit from the school be heard. Voices like quadripertic Daniel Curtis, who might have benefited from a medical school in Austin at the time a swimming pool accident left him clinging to life. Curtis might not have spent five weeks recovering at a Houston medical center – instead staying in Austin.
For spinal cord injury patients “fear” is a part of everyday life, especially the fear that they may never have the life they once enjoyed. Curtis, who faces fear daily from his wheelchair, has displaced fear with a mission to once again walk.
Curtis, and other’s like him, need to be the new face and voice speaking out for the UT Medical School. With less than three months till the deciding votes are sealed forever, it is time to create a new campaign of what an Austin medical school should really be about.
Let stories flow about residents spending time in far away cities because Austin failed to have needed medical expertise or facilities for loved ones. Stories about patients alone, facing recovery far away from family and friends.
This election is not about jobs that might be created, doctors that might be graduated, communities that might receive more government dollars, or politicians advancing their political career. Every ballot being cast is about community. Rich and poor alike, benefiting from state of the art treatment provided by groundbreaking physicians in the most modern facilities; all the while staying close to their community and loved ones – not isolated hundreds of miles away in a strange land.