At public meeting, Central Health’s reach, use of funds criticized

Lack of transparency and inadequate health care service delivery were the two most common complaints lodged at Central Health during a public input meeting held Tuesday, hosted by the consulting firm preparing an independent performance review of the Travis County health district.

About a half dozen people attended the meeting, several of whom are regular, vocal critics of the taxpayer-funded entity. The general tone of the comments Tuesday was one of frustration and exasperation, urgency and weariness.

Richard Franklin, a Travis County resident, said there is great need in far-flung parts of the county for more services. Franklin said he is a cancer survivor, and when he originally noticed a lump, it took him seven months to go to a doctor because there wasn’t a provider near his home in Del Valle.

“When does enough become enough is the issue at the end of the day,” Franklin said. “There needs to be a plan in place yesterday. It needs to be instituted by everybody involved. We need help; we need it right now. People are dying.”

Attorney Fred Lewis again brought up his concern that Central Health’s transfer of $35 million a year of taxpayer funds to the University of Texas Dell Medical School is unlawful. Lewis also criticized the entity for spending time and resources on redeveloping its old Brackenridge campus. Neither are in its mission, he said.

“I’m not saying these aren’t valuable purposes, but the statute says that those taxes are raised to provide for health care for poor people,” Lewis said. “You have to realize, Texas is very a stingy state. We do not have Medicaid expansion … We have the highest amount of people not insured in the United States.”

Central Health officials have defended themselves against such claims by citing the 2012 vote in which Travis County voters agreed to raise property taxes in order to fund the school. Its doctors and residents work in its affiliated clinics to take care of low-income patients, and in the long term, the school will help attract and retain providers, officials have said.

On Brackenridge, officials have said that the profits from the development will go back toward health care for the indigent.

RELATED: Critics accuse UT medical school of misspending local tax dollars

When asked by moderators what Central Health could do differently, Del Valle resident Rebecca Birch said “they can use my tax dollars the way they’re supposed to use my tax dollars.”

“The community is not asking for a hand-out,” she said. “No, no, we’ve been paying our taxes, and we’ve gotten nothing out of it. Any other taxing entity that doesn’t provide services to their taxpayers, there’s some accountability. For some reason, this entity doesn’t have that problem.”

Some just came to Wednesday’s event to listen, such as Lisa Dow, executive director of Regarding Cancer, a local nonprofit that provides emotional support for people impacted by cancer.

“I came today to learn more about what kind of support is needed and just to hear what people are talking about and learn more about how we can offer additional support,” Dow said.

Moderator Blanca Lesmes, an independent contractor for Germane Solutions, the consulting firm conducting the review, said the company will spend the next three weeks gathering information and expects to make its findings public in January.

“This has been very enlightening to me,” Lesmes said. “This was something that I really wanted us to do because I wanted to get to the voices. If I’m just getting documents, it’s very hard to translate documents to passion. And I think we heard a lot of different levels of what that is from those of you who came today.”

The company will hold another public input event Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. at the Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River Street in Austin.





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