Winstead: Seton investment in health care also good for our pocketbook

  • Pete Winstead
  • Special to the American-Statesman
12:00 a.m. Friday, March 18, 2016 Opinion

A recent article in the Austin American-Statesman about cost increases for construction of the teaching hospital buried the lead.

Yes, Seton has increased spending on the new facility by about $15 million; but the real story is that Seton and private donors — not taxpayers — are footing the bill.

And the facility won’t be just a safety net hospital, although Seton is keeping its promise to continue fulfilling that important role.

Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas, set to open in May 2017, also will be where all Central Texans can go for leading-edge care that is both compassionate and personalized. Caregivers and administrators at University Medical Center Brackenridge — along with Dell Medical School colleagues, the Community Care Collaborative and private practice physicians — are already mapping out advanced strategies for treating people that just weren’t technically feasible to provide in “Brack,” that noble but aged facility.

It has been decades since a U.S. community has seen a medical school and its primary teaching hospital go up at the same time. Even rarer: when the safety net hospital is not built with tax dollars, as is the case here in Austin.

Central Health, the health care district for Travis County, carries a relatively small amount of debt — $13.24 million in principal. Compare that to Dallas and San Antonio, two communities that have recently built new hospitals; each carries more than $700 million in debt. Our community is getting a new, public-debt-free teaching and safety net hospital because Seton, along with its parent organization, Ascension — and private donors are paying for it.

Despite Central Health having the lowest health care tax rate among Texas’ six largest hospital districts, Travis County has the same high level of services: neighborhood and specialty clinics, a strong safety net system, quality emergency rooms and Level I trauma care for adults and children. That’s because, in addition to Central Health’s good stewardship, Seton has operated the public hospital, saving taxpayers millions in property taxes for two decades. Had it not been for the innovative partnership with Seton, the health district tax rate for Travis County residents in 2014 could have been more than double the amount we pay today to cover the cost of what other Texas health districts provide.

In addition, Seton and others have been successful at organizing coalitions to strengthen the quality and quantity of care in this community. Seton partners with UT-Austin, Austin Community College and Concordia University to help fund the cost of delivering graduate medical and nursing education. Did you know that Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas provides nurses for Austin public schools? Seton also is the reason my grandchildren and their friends can be cared for by specialists and subspecialists in our very own town at Dell Children’s, part of the Seton Healthcare Family.

Seton and hundreds of wonderfully generous individuals, businesses and foundations have raised 80 percent of the $50 million goal to assist Seton with building the new hospital that will serve Dell Medical School.

I am proud to chair the hospital capital campaign because of Seton’s track record. They provide great health care to all, with a special concern for the poor and vulnerable. Their support of the medical school has been crucial to making it a reality.

The hospital system, Dell Medical School and Central Health — one private and two public entities — already are attracting top-tier medical faculty and exceptional students who will help transform the delivery — and affordability — of health care in Travis County. Even before the doors open, communities across the nation are monitoring this public-private collaboration, which aims to provide innovative, high-quality and cost-effective health care.

This is something we should all be proud of, and also happy as taxpayers that Seton — our largest local not-for-profit — is committed to helping pay much of the cost.

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