The Seton Healthcare Family is moving ahead with plans to build a costlier, $295 million teaching hospital in Austin that will be the main site for training new doctors and caring for the poor and uninsured.
Seton had planned to build a $250 million hospital, but “we went back and upped the number,” President and CEO Jesús Garza said Tuesday at a news conference announcing final approval for the project.
That 18 percent increase more accurately reflects what it will cost to replace the aging and cramped University Medical Center Brackenridge, Seton officials said in interviews. UMC Brackenridge will close when the new hospital opens, in 2017, as a companion to a University of Texas medical school, expected to enroll its first class in 2016.
The new hospital will feature the latest technology, greater surgical capacity and a 14-bed unit for patients with medical and psychiatric conditions.
Travis County voters in November approved a property tax increase that will raise average bills by $107 starting next year to finance the teaching hospital site, support a medical school and pay for other health care improvements.
Garza was among officials from Seton, UT and Central Health, which is Travis County’s public hospital district, announcing that Seton’s parent, the Catholic Ascension Health system in St. Louis, had given its final blessing to the project last week. They thanked voters and their partners at a news conference atop the UMC Brackenridge parking garage at 15th and Red River streets. The new hospital’s home will be across 15th Street.
To build the hospital, Seton will use $200 million in hospital revenue and another $45 million from tax credits and other financial incentives, Garza said. The remaining $50 million will be raised through community philanthropy, he said.
Dallas-based architectural firm HKS will design the hospital.
Seton operates UMC Brackenridge, the oldest public hospital in Texas, on a long-term lease with Central Health. Seton will own and operate the new hospital, an issue that has raised concerns among some in Austin who oppose converting a public asset to private, Catholic ownership.
The new hospital will have 222 beds, not counting emergency and operating rooms, compared with the 244 beds in use today at UMC Brackenridge. Working with Central Health, Seton hopes to better coordinate care and provide more health services in clinics, reducing the need for more and more hospital beds, Garza and other Seton officials said.
In addition, teaching and health care services for the indigent will be spread among Seton hospitals to better care for patients, Garza said.
In less than two years, Austin has moved ahead with two key goals among 10 health care improvements that state Sen. Kirk Watson challenged the community to accomplish in a September 2011 speech — the teaching hospital and medical school. “This is a wonderful day,” Watson said at the news conference.
Seton officials said they believe the size of the hospital will be right for the community, despite population growth and an increasingly aging community.
“What we can do individually is impressive,” said Charles Barnett, executive chairman of the Seton board. “What we will be able to do collectively is transformational.”