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Brackenridge panel rejects

Tuesday, October 23, 2001 by

hospital within hospital idea

Other proposals seek to ensure high level of care for all

The Brackenridge Hospital Oversight Council (BHOC) has finally issued its recommendation on reproductive services at the hospital and that recommendation goes against what city staff has recommended But BHOC is also submitting a series of backup recommendations should the City Council come to a different conclusion.

The city began planning to change the way many women’s health-care procedures are handled at Brackenridge after a new set of Ethical and Religious Directives were issued by the Catholic Church. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 22, 2001.) The Seton Healthcare Network, which operates Brackenridge under a lease with the city, is affiliated with the Catholic Church. The new directives will prevent Seton facilities from performing procedures that interfere with procreation, including tubal ligations. The city’s proposal for a separate “hospital within a hospital” calls for those services to be moved to the fifth floor of Brackenridge, while other reproductive services remain on the building’s second floor.

But the BHOC recommended against that proposal. Instead, members recommended that the city take back control of all reproductive services at the hospital. “The City could create a Center of Excellence for Women’s Health Care, whether on the 2nd or 5th floors,” council members wrote in a memo supporting their resolution. Their concern is that splitting up reproductive services would create a “separate but equal system . . . which almost inevitably results in a two-tier, lower quality service for one or the other.” Chair Dr. Jim Brand said the city could contract with another health-care provider to manage those reproductive services. “We don’t necessarily think the city needs to run that service, but that the city should be responsible for procuring management for that service. It would eliminate a lot of the possibilities that we anticipate could happen where some of our family planning options might fall through the cracks.”

That option is not likely to be approved by the City Council this Thursday, in part because of financial considerations. Officials at Seton have previously indicated that the loss of all reproductive services would have a severe negative financial impact on their operations. Also, city staff has expressed concerns about taking on all maternity duties at Brackenridge.

Other recommendations

The BHOC’s secondary recommendations consist of detailed proposals designed to ensure that the quality of care for patients is not affected. These include keeping accountability for all family planning services at Brackenridge with the City of Austin, having city-employed nursing staffers conduct a post partum review with all new mothers, ensuring that women seeking emergency contraception be directed to the fifth floor and hiring an outside group to perform customer satisfaction surveys.

In addition to the guidelines for the operation of the hospital within a hospital, the BHOC also weighed in with recommendations on future dealings with Seton. One calls for the city to pursue other potential contractors for Brackenridge if there are further changes to the Ethical and Religious Directives regarding family planning. It suggests that the search take place at the same time as any negotiations with Seton. “The more delay, whenever you get into these types of things, costs the city more money,” said BHOC member Dan Barry. BHOC member DeAnn Friedholm agreed. “There weren’t thousands of organizations beating down the door of the city to take on this responsibility,” she pointed out. “But I do think it is important for the city to have the freedom to seek others to help solve any problems.”

The remaining recommendations covered the financial impact of the modifications to be made to the fifth floor and oversight of the new hospital within a hospital. The BHOC wants all costs for re-fitting the fifth floor to be sustained by Seton. The city’s proposal calls for the initial capital expenditures to be covered by Seton, but repaid by the city over the remainder of the life of the lease agreement. Finally, BHOC members recommended that a single Brackenridge Oversight Council review and compare services at the existing facility and the hospital within a hospital.

BHOC members stressed that their recommendations did not reflect any dissatisfaction with the performance of Seton. “They’re dealing with low-income (patients) with very few choices,” said BHOC member Donna Ammons. “Historically, Seton has done an outstanding job with this population . . . and we hope that the end result of this is that our patients will still have choices.”

Mopac advisors say Phase 1

Of planning should continue

Distrust of TxDOT unchanged

The special committee studying expansion of Mopac voted Monday to extend Phase 1 of the analysis to ensure that recommendations made by the national group of technical experts are incorporated into TxDOT plans before Phase 2 is started. The experts had recommended extending Phase 1 by six months, but at the urging of Travis County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner the committee put no timeline on the extension. Bill Garbade, representing TxDOT, was not happy with the decision. He argued that it would waste time as well as money.

But Sonleitner said she had already experienced the differences between having input and having an impact. “We got to this point in ( SH)130, where it was thank you very much for your input,” but at the end TxDOT wasn’t listening. “The further it goes, the less input means.”

Ian Inglis of MONAC (Mopac Neighborhoods Alliance) agreed. “I think that it’s real important we stay in Phase 1, keep it as fluid as possibly and make sure we have an impact. I think if we do that it will actually shorten the process. The history of Mopac is we are still fighting 30 years later.”

Garbade said, “To a certain extent I think they’re right.” In Austin, he said, there is so much divisiveness, that “no two people agree on anything.”

Senator Gonzalo Barrientos said Garbade had mistaken the democratic process for divisiveness. Garbade urged the committee to “be in a trust me mode,” but the majority clearly did not want to do that with the state agency.

Garbade, Barrientos, Hays County Commissioner Bill Burnett and Nancy Ledbetter, representing Williamson County, voted against the extension. The other 10 members voted in favor of the recommendation. Votes on other items were unanimous, or nearly so.

The committee also adopted a number of other recommendations from the technical team, but could not agree on the membership of a consensus-building committee integral to the continued study. That problem, along with the final decision on all the recommendations, will be left to the CAMPO( Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) policy advisory committee, which is scheduled to consider the recommendations on Nov. 19.

The committee and the technical team were formed in response to an overwhelming number of complaints received by CAMPO on TxDOT’s plans for Mopac. ( See In Fact Daily, Sept. 25, 2001, Oct.9, 2001)

Inglis, said MONAC, the coalition of westside neighborhoods that he represents, would lose numerous homes under the original TxDOT plan. The extension of Phase 1 “is the key part in this whole process,” he said. He tried to convince the committee to name the organizations and other stakeholders that would be represented by the consensus-building group. Barrientos interjected, “Remember, members, this will be a recommendation to CAMPO, and CAMPO can further refine it or do whatever it wants to do.”

Rep. Ann Kitchen had a solution—to include all the groups recommended by the technical team on the committee. Her suggestion was adopted unanimously, while Garbade shook his head but said nothing.

Barrientos suggested that he and Garbade be allowed to choose “a list of names of all those groups and bring those before the CAMPO organization. Otherwise,” he said, “we’re going to have everybody throwing out names and we’re going to be there for 24 hours.”

There was no consensus on that item and no motion, but Inglis said MONAC would want to select its own member.

Other recommendations adopted by the committee include:

• Limiting HOV/bus lanes to two • Developing alternatives that include interim commuter rail • Reducing the Union Pacific right-of-way from 60 feet to 40 feet • Staying within existing right-of-way except where new right-of-way can eliminate entry ramps that use neighborhood streets • Studying of HOV/bus access at a number of points in addition to the three suggested previously by TxDOT • Building pedestrian crossings of Mopac at US 183 and possibly other locations • Minimizing light pollution • City of Austin and TxDOT should develop a comprehensive east-west traffic plan in conjunction with Mopac-US 183 Dick Kallerman, transportation chair for the Austin area Sierra Club, was not reassured by the votes. Even though the committee is recommending what the technical team put forth, Kallerman is still suspicious of TxDOT. He told In Fact Daily he is concerned that TxDOT would pay lip service to the plan but then build whatever its wishes. “I was on a task force for US 290 in Oak Hill and TxDOT accepted our recommendations. Now, they’re doing just what they wanted to do, instead of what we said. TxDOT is going to do that here—unless there’s a good police force,” Kallerman predicted.

Don't panic, no anthrax in

Austin, say public officials

Mayor asks media to stop reporting on false alarms

Mayor Kirk Watson on Monday asked local media to stop covering any “false alarm” anthrax calls received by 9-1-1. Watson believes that reporting on those unfounded calls may lead to public panic. “The fact is, we have had no cases of anthrax actually reported in Austin,” Watson said. “We still have no reason to believe that Austin is in any danger of being a target for this type of incident, and frankly, that needs to be the story right now.”

Officials with the Austin Fire Department estimate that the city has received between 30 and 60 calls per day regarding “suspicious mail” since the first anthrax cases were reported in Florida. But so far, none of those letters or packages has contained any hazardous substances. Determination of whether a substance is hazardous is generally only made after lab tests are run, although dispatchers are now asking more questions of callers to separate “threats” from “concerns.” “We put a lot more resources into a ‘threat’ than we do a ‘concern’,” said Fire Chief Gary Warren. Watson,Warren, Assistant Police Chief Michael McDonald, and City Manager Jesus Garza all encouraged concerned citizens to use common sense before dialing “9-1-1,” and to consider calling the city’s new non-emergency “3-1-1” service instead.

Police are planning to hold a series of seven meetings throughout the metropolitan area to address concerns, while city officials will hold a “community forum” at 7pm on Friday at the LBJ Auditorium. “We need to have calm. We need to not panic,” Watson said.

So far, the increased number of calls is not having an impact on the budget for the Austin Fire Department. “Because of the type of calls we’ve been going on, they’re able to take care of most of these calls just by bagging up the letter or substance or whatever, without having to go into a full-scale operation,” Chief Warren said. “It hasn’t increased our costs significantly.”

Should the need arise for additional officers or overtime, the City Manager is confident the money would be made available. “This Mayor and this Council have never short-changed public safety,” Garza said. “If, in the event we need to amend the budget to add additional dollars for overtime . . . additional personnel—not just for the police department but for EMS—and public health, the Council will accept our recommendation. I’m 100 percent certain of it.”

Garza and Police Chief Stan Knee had notified the Council earlier this month that they would put together a proposal to hire 17 additional officers to provide security at city-owned facilities like water-treatment and power-generating plants. Watson says the proposal will be presented at the Nov. 1st City Council meeting.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Vote NO puts out its message too . . . Saying Travis County’s bond package is “unaffordable, unbalanced and inequitable,” the Austin Neighborhoods Together PAC and the Sierra Club have sent out a letter urging voters to vote against all four bond proposals. In addition, the Save Our Springs Alliance has sent emails to its supporters urging them to vote against the bonds. Part of their argument is that “the Chamber of Commerce and the Real Estate Council have already formed a PAC to promote the bonds. These same groups that have promoted runaway growth are now asking us to pick up the tab.” Are the days of harmony ending with the term of Mayor Kirk Watson? . . Speaking of the Mayor . . . Candidate for Texas Attorney General Kirk Watson is having a fundraiser Wednesday from 5:30-7:30pm at the home of Gail and Rodney Susholtz. Leslie and Steve McConnico are co-hosting the event, which has patrons too numerous to mention . . . Ullrich transmission leaks costly . . . Peter Rieck, director of the Public Works Department, is asking the City Council to ratify an amendment of $302,000 for a professional services agreement with Construction Technology Laboratories. The initial amount of the contract was $38,000 and Rieck says that amount is needed to complete tests and design repairs for the leaky main. In order to complete the repairs by next June, Rieck says in a memo to the City Council, “it is necessary to begin the repairs by Nov. 1.” To meet this schedule, staff instructed the contractor to proceed with the testing and design before the money was appropriated.

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