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Last minute language changes win approval

Friday, February 8, 2002 by

The “hospital-within-a-hospital” plan for Brackenridge Hospital became a reality Thursday with a 5-2 vote from the City Council, but not without extensive wrangling over an amendment designed to ensure all women who request services available only at the fifth-floor facility or city clinics will have access to those services.

The idea of a hospital-within-a-hospital was brought forward last year after a change in the Ethical and Religious Directives from the Catholic Church. The Seton Healthcare Network, which has a lease agreement with the city to operate Brackenridge, is affiliated with the church and is required to comply with church teachings. That means Seton will be prevented from offering certain medical procedures such as emergency contraception or sterilizations.

The linkage between the city government and a religious entity has continued to rankle some Austinites, who have kept up a call for the city to dissolve the relationship with Seton. Dan Sulzer, the most vocal opponent of the contract to appear so far, has spoken at several public hearings and committee meetings about the deal. He criticized both the city and the Catholic Church during the “citizens communication” period of Thursday’s meeting. “I’m here to let you know that if you pass this amendment, I’m going be here until we clean up this mess,” Sulzer said. “Like a buzzard on road kill, I’m going stay here till the mess is cleaned up. We can align ourselves with the Catholic Church, which I refer to as the ‘White Taliban,’ but let me tell you something . . . you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.”

During the discussion of the proposed lease amendment with Seton, Assistant City Manager Betty Dunkerley told Council members the 22-page document before them was the result of months of work by both sides. “We’ve worked on this issue for almost a year now,” Dunkerley said. “I think if I could have come up with a financially viable solution that would have offered as many benefits as this solution does, I would have brought that solution to you today. I don’t have another solution.”

After a postponement at last week’s meeting to allow the two sides to go over proposed amendments, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman on Thursday requested language that would prevent Seton employees or doctors from steering women away from the fifth-floor hospital. Goodman’s requested amendment included the phrase, “facilitated City of Austin access,” which attorneys for Seton rejected because it was not clearly defined. Goodman wanted that phrase to cover social workers or rape-crisis counselors who might be conferring with patients in the Seton-run portion of Brackenridge. Seton also objected to a clause directing that people “affiliated with Seton” would not “deter, prohibit, prevent, or attempt to dissuade anyone from access to the . . . City Hospital.” Representatives of Seton explained that the provision would require them to enforce standards on doctors who were not technically employees of Seton. Those doctors are governed and disciplined by an independent physicians board. After a brief recess to work through the details of Goodman’s amendment, the Council, city staff and representatives of Seton worked from the dais to craft a word-by-word adjustment which removed the two phrases objected to by Seton and add language that both Seton and Goodman found agreeable.

Goodman’s additional language was inserted as an amendment to the motion to approve the deal, made by Council Member Will Wynn. “After months of gut-wrenching discussions, public hearings and negotiations, I do believe that this lease amendment is the best possible lease amendment given the circumstances,” Wynn said. Modifying the agreement with Seton was preferable to the alternative. “Option ‘B’ is for the City of Austin to take over operation and management of the hospital. If we take back Brackenridge, it’s going to cost us 90 to 100 million dollars,” Wynn said. “As staggering as that is financially, what’s more troubling to me is the impact it would have on the delivery of health care throughout our region, particularly to our poor.”

Goodman agreed that the measure facing the Council was not ideal, but was the best available. “The only option that we have right now that I can see as viable is to continue the contract,” she said.

Even with Goodman’s amendment, Council Members Beverly Griffith and Danny Thomas were not convinced the agreement was adequate to protect patients. “There are too many unresolved financial and medical issues. The second thing is that I think it is really important for the City of Austin to be able to do in space it owns whatever it thinks best for the citizens without anxiety over withdrawal of any kind of support services. Third, I really believe that the city’s operating women’s reproductive services . . . is a viable option that we should really be serious about,” Griffith said.

Two of Griffith’s requests from last week were included in the final version of the contract amendment. Those include a provision outlining the city’s ability to access certain financial data and instructions to the City Manager to analyze the city’s health care system over the next three years.

There will still be some limitations on procedures that will be performed in the separate fifth-floor facility, which is scheduled to become operational in July of 2003. “We can’t administer emergency contraceptives to patients who do not identify themselves as rape or sexual assault victims, however few those might be, that have had the experience of a failed contraceptive measure,” Dunkerley said. She had several suggestions to make sure women requesting emergency contraception were able to receive the medication, including adding staff and creating a new primary-care clinic at or near Brackenridge. The long-term solution, Dunkerley said, would likely lie in a “regional financing mechanism” for health care.

The idea of a “hospital district” has gained strength in recent weeks. “We will be working to find a financing mechanism that allows the city to have a genuinely public hospital,” said Glenda Parks, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region. Several Council members, including Mayor Gus Garcia, also expressed an interest in having the surrounding communities that benefit from Brackenridge Hospital contribute to its financial support. “For the long term, this community and the counties that look to Seton for trauma services are going to have to look at a hospital district,” Garcia said. “We cannot get away from that because the cost of providing these services is increasingly burdensome to the tax bases that you have in communities.” Creation of a hospital district would require approval from the state legislature as well as voters within the boundaries of the proposed district. The earliest it could be attempted would be after the legislative session in 2003.

Council postpones vote on putting

Single-member districts on ballot

Several Council Members say they prefer mixed system

Even though they’ve known for months the question would be coming before them, most members of the City Council did not want to make a decision yesterday on whether to put the question of single-member districts on the May 4 ballot. Council Member Will Wynn has pushed for the proposition, and other Council members have said they favored the scheme in the past. But now several are having second thoughts. After hearing from the public and discussing the matter briefly, the Council decided to put the matter on next Wednesday’s work session agenda.

Council Member Danny Thomas said he felt that the issue had not had sufficient public input. Very few citizens showed up to voice their opinions at the public hearings held by the Charter Revision Committee. Last week, representatives from the Real Estate Council of Austin and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce stayed until 12:30am to voice their support for single-member districts. Only about a dozen citizens came forth last night. Most of those said they favored single-member districts, but some said a mixed system—some at large and some elected from districts—would be better. Among those advocating the mixed system was Maxine Barkan, president of the League of Women Voters.

Reb Wayne, political director of the Travis County Republican Party, told the Council he would like to see a 9-member Council, with only the Mayor elected at large. Richard Settler said the change to single-member districts would result in “the defeat of what we’ve worked so hard for here in the City of Austin,” namely the election of environmentalists.

Mayor Gus Garcia told colleagues he has been looking at single-member districts “for so long I can’t remember . . . The charter revision commission I served on in the ‘60s recommended 6 (single-member districts) and 5 (at large). And I have changed my view with regard to single-member districts because I thought it was the only way minorities could get elected . . . But Austin has become very accepting of diversity . . . what bothers me the most is there are certain areas of town that have not had representation forever and a day.” He said he was not sure that he could support a mixed system, however, because he feared it would make some Council members more powerful than others. He said he had been getting a lot of emails in opposition to single-member districts. “I don’t know how many I’ve erased . . . I think that a city that has representation from all its parts is going to be better.”

Council Member Raul Alvarez wanted to know how a recall election would play out in a single-member district. Assistant City Attorney John Steiner said he presumed that the language would be written so that only voters within the district could initiate a recall election, and only voters within that district could vote on the matter if such an election were held.

Council Member Beverly Griffith didn’t say much, merely commenting that she was looking forward to the discussions she would be having with fellow Council members and citizens in the next few days “and possibly weeks.”

The Council is also scheduled to receive recommendations from the Charter Revision Committee next week on other items that may go on the May 4 ballot. No hearing has been set for any of those items, however. Thomas, a former member of the police department, expressed his concern over the recommendation that the police monitor be selected by the City Council. He said he had talked to APA President Mike Sheffield and that the two of them were both concerned about violating the meet and confer contract between the city and the police association.

Unanimous Council rejects

All bids for police substation

Lack of minority and women-owned business participation apparent reason

Council Member Raul Alvarez made a motion to reject all bids for the Police Substation and Forensics facility at 812 Springdale Road and put the project out for rebidding yesterday. There was no discussion, but representatives of the Hispanic Contractors Association, the Asian Contractors Association and the Black Contractors Association had all signed up against awarding the contract to the Cadence McShane Corporation. Staff had recommended giving the contract of $14.4 to the company, which turned in the lowest of nine bids received by the city.

After Alvarez made the motion and Council Member Danny Thomas had seconded it, Mayor Gus Garcia asked whether those parties still wished to speak and they all declined. The motion was approved unanimously. So the contract will be re-bid, apparently. Frank Fuentes, president of the Hispanic Contractors Association, declined to elaborate on his reasons for opposing the bid, but Mahesh Naik, president of the Asian Contractors Association told In Fact Daily that Cadence McShane’s minority and women-owned business participation was “terrible and they did terrible outreach.” The company had stated its minority business participation at 7.19 percent and 1.39 percent women-owned business participation.

Tuesday Wednesday, Thursday, Friday

Questions for Wildhorse Planned Unit Development . . . The City Council approved Pete Dwyer’s Wildhorse PUD on second reading Thursday, with only Council Member Will Wynn dissenting. City staff told the Council that they still had issues to work out with Dwyer over tax rebates and who will pay for the right-of-way the state wants to take to build SH-130.Dwyer said that he and his staff will be working very hard on reaching agreement with the city quickly, because the annexation must gain final approval next week or it will expire. Wynn told In Fact Daily that he is mainly concerned about the SH-130 issues. He does not want to see the city foot the bill for all the right-of-way, which might happen if the property is annexed. Dwyer said he was completely surprised by Gov. Rick Perry’s announcement that he wants to build a huge corridor in the area, not just for the highway, but for rail and pipeline easements as well. He said the governor’s office was not able to provide him with any details about where that all might go, but noted that he has builders lined up to start building homes whenever he gets city approval . . . New judges . . . The City Council appointed two new relief judges to serve on the Municipal Court yesterday. They are Kirk Kuykendall and Katherine Benbow Daniels . . . Tuscany Way extension OK’d . . . The Council voted unanimously to approve the city’s portion of an extension of Tuscany Way, an important matter for the neighborhood. But Urban Transportation Commissioner Tommy Eden took the opportunity to point out that city staff had not brought the item to his commission for its review. He urged the Council to postpone the item and force staff to seek a recommendation from the commission. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman explained that city and county staff had been working on the project together for the past four years. “This one has had a lot of twists and turns,” she said. City Manager Jesus Garza said the project would be done by the county and Assistant City Manager Lisa Gordon said it should be approved as soon as possible . . . Baptists set hearing on garage lawsuit. . . The Hyde Park Baptist Church has asked for summary judgment on the neighbors’case to City Council, including whether the ordinance gave neighbors the right to appeal the proposed garage to the Council and the meaning of various provisions in agreements between the city and Hyde Park Baptist. The hearing is set for Feb. 21 in federal district court . . . Lounge Lizards headline fundraiser . . . Council Members Jackie Goodman and Daryl Slusher, still trying to raise money and bring in signatures for their run on the May 4 ballot, are holding a fundraiser Sunday from 6pm to midnight at Antone’s. Highlighting the event are the Austin Lounge Lizards, Ray Benson and Jimmy LaFave.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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