Even though a modern hospital sits right across the street from campus, Texas State University nursing students in Round Rock can’t train there. They drive anywhere from four to 60 miles, round-trip, to see adult patients.
Working with children requires a 93-mile round-trip.
This is a tale of a nursing school that needed money, two fiercely competitive hospital systems — the Seton Healthcare Family and St. David’s HealthCare — and explanations that are miles apart. Caught in the middle are 187 third- and fourth-year Texas State nursing students who rotate among hospitals as part of their required clinical training for a bachelor’s degree.
Texas State’s Dean of the College of Health Professions, Ruth Welborn, said the nursing students were banned from Seton hospitals after Texas State accepted a $6 million donation from the St. David’s Foundation in 2006 to help establish the school. That resulted in the nursing school, which opened in 2010, being named for St. David’s.
The upshot: none of the students would be allowed to train at any of the Seton hospitals, including the one closest to campus, Seton Medical Center Williamson.
“They said if you are taking the money and naming the school for St. David’s, your students can’t come to Seton,” Welborn said. The edict was issued by Charles Barnett, now chief operating officer and president of health care operations for Ascension Health, Seton’s parent, according to Welborn.
“Seton hadn’t put any money on the table,” she said.
A spokesman for the university, which earlier this month received another $2 million gift for the Round Rock campus, confirmed Welborn’s account.
Not so, Barnett said Monday.
He said that Texas State first approached Seton about donating, and he offered to split the $6 million with St. David’s, hoping the school would collaborate with both hospital systems.
Back then, the school was seen as a way to alleviate what was then a fairly severe shortage of nurses affecting Texas hospitals. Seton and St. David’s pledged to help train the nurses.
“We said this ought not be a Seton vs. St. David’s effort,” Barnett said. But “St. David’s said, ‘We’re going to give it all and have the school named for us.”
As a result, Barnett said, he told Texas State, which opened the nursing school in 2010, “that’s going to a problem.”
“Recognizing there is a natural competitive dimension to this, it makes it more difficult for our nurses to train these students with ‘St. David’s’ written on their chest,” said Barnett, referring to the identification label the students wear. “I’m not interested in making our nurses uncomfortable in any way.”
So Barnett said he told Welborn that Seton would first fill its student nursing slots “with the schools that have an interest in working with us.”
Those slots are full and have been for some time, Seton officials said.
Seton trains 900 student nurses who come from all of the same schools as St. David’s HealthCare — except for Texas State. Both health care groups take students from the University of Texas, Austin Community College, Concordia University, Texas A&M University and even Texas Tech students who study in Austin. St. David’s trains 650 student nurses.
Welborn said Seton hospitals graciously welcome Texas State students training for other kinds of health care jobs. But, she said, her attempts to get the nursing students in those same hospitals have been rebuffed more than once, though she still holds out hope that will change.
Her students can see Seton Medical Center Williamson, which opened in 2008, from their campus but some drive 60 miles, round trip, to train at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center.
That is not Seton’s fault, said Greg Hartman, a Seton executive and head of two of its hospitals.
“We were sort of left at the altar,” he said. “We wanted to have a joint nursing program next to our hospital. … They said, ‘No, we decided to do an exclusive deal with St. David’s.’ We never understood that. It was very odd.”
Texas State and St. David’s officials say there was never an exclusive agreement to train the nursing students at St. David’s. They say if Seton wants to welcome the students, there would be no problem.
“From our perspective, I was never given any indication from the school that they had any designs on this being exclusive,” said St. David’s Senior Vice President Mark Clayton. “We saw it as an opportunity to inclusively participate.”
Because Seton owned the only children’s hospital in Central Texas and pediatric training is required, Texas State thought it might have to send to students to Fort Worth to train at Cook Children’s Medical Center. But Scott & White Healthcare opened a children’s hospital in Temple in fall 2011, and “God answered our prayers,” Welborn said.
The weekend trip to Temple, more than 46 miles one way from the Round Rock campus, “was kind of inconvenient” and required sharing costs with peers for a couple of nights in a hotel, said Stephanie Calhoun, a senior nursing student at Texas State who lives in Austin.
“I still had an amazing experience,” said Calhoun, chair of fundraising for her class.
Seton and St. David’s speak less these days about their competition being friendly. Ill feelings intensified during the recent property tax election for a medical school and other health projects, with St. David’s saying it was shut out of potentially lucrative projects involving Seton and the Travis County hospital district, Central Health.
For now, Seton has no more space for training student nurses, Barnett said. Asked if he could foresee a chance to heal the rift, he said, “The one thing I’ve learned is, I don’t think you ever ought to close a door to an opportunity to collaborate.”
Mary Ann Roser has provided in-depth coverage of Central Texas hospitals and medical issues since 2000. Her training includes national fellowships at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, National Library of Medicine and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.