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CEO explains strategic plan for health district By Mark Richardson

Wednesday, December 6, 2006 by

Outlining an ultimate goal of making Central Texas a “model health community,” the Travis County Healthcare District laid out its first Strategic Plan before the Council’s Public Health and Human Services Subcommittee Tuesday.

The goal is ambitious: one in four Travis County residents do not have health insurance and the district operates on a razor-thin budget, with the current demand for services far outstripping its ability to deliver services. District CEO Trish Young said the plan was a starting point towards delivering quality health care to more of the area’s indigent.

“The purpose of the Strategic Plan is to help the district to achieve its vision (as a model health community),” Young said. “Current funding is stretched too far, but with proper planning we hope to build a system that can serve the majority of the community.”

The plan is also designed to help define the role of the three year-old district, she said, as well as develop an infrastructure that looks toward prevention and innovation in providing healthcare.

Young said the main points of the Strategic Plan include: • Responsibility for indigent care;

• Uniting a previously divided (city-county) system;

• Establishing a long-term vision for an improved system of healthcare delivery;

• Creating efficiencies in the delivery system; and

• Developing innovative ways to strengthen the safety net.

The biggest hurdle is the lack of resources. According to Young, the district has the lowest tax rate of any of the large healthcare districts in Texas. With the effective tax rate of 7.34 cents per $100 valuation, the district’s budget is just over $134 million in 2007.

“(The budget) It is insufficient to meet the current needs in our community,” she said. “And it’s going to be difficult to expand that number because of the state’s rollback law. We can only increase the amount of revenue by 8 percent or less each year without triggering a rollback election.”

The district currently operates – through contracts with outside providers – Brackenridge Hospital, Austin Children’s, and Austin Women’s Hospital, as well as several community based city-county health clinics. Young said the Strategic Plan seeks to build from the current base of services to expand in areas such as mental health, non-emergency room care, and other, innovative approaches to primary care.

She added that the district hopes to stretch its resources by emphasizing prevention, and targeting chronic health problems among identifiable groups in the community.

“We have a high rate of hypertension in the African-American community, a high rate of diabetes in the Hispanic community and others,” she said. “We want to be able to focus on reducing these long-standing problems.”

She said one of the district’s strengths is a history of collaboration among safety net providers, a set of federally-qualified clinics, two hospital systems with a history of cooperation, and leased rather than direct operations of facilities such as Brackenridge.

Current problems to be overcome are overcrowded conditions in the emergency room, too little access to primary and specialty care, a lack of key crisis mental health services, and population growth in the surrounding counties.

Young said the Strategic Plan was a part of continuous process, and that the district’s goals and priorities would examined on a regular basis.

Austin seeks to grow clean energy industry jobs

In the national movement towards renewable energy, a number of factors are converging that could make Austin and Central Texas a major player in the Clean Energy industry. Joel Serface, director of the Austin Clean Energy Incubator, told the Council Committee for Emerging Technology and Telecommunications last week that the formation of small and large companies, along with Austin Energy’s “green friendly” approach, and UT’s research prowess make up the nucleus of a Clean Energy powerhouse.

Recent news announcements such as Westinghouse-TECO’s agreement to manufacture wind turbine blades, along with GM’s announcement that it is developing a plug-in hybrid model of the Saturn Vue are putting Austin in the national spotlight, Serface said.

“There is already a lot of money pouring into clean energy ventures,” he said. “There is currently around $2.3 billion being invested, and we see that growing to near $3 billion by next year. Clean technology is one of the Top Five fastest growing industries in the country and we believe it will be among the Top Three in the next few years.”

The major advantage to clean energy, Serface said, is the number of jobs it creates compared to petroleum driven energy technology.

“Our numbers show that wind energy creates 2.8 times the number of jobs, and solar energy between 7 and 11 times the number of jobs than coal or gas driven energy,” he said.

The Clean Energy Incubator is a spin-off from the Austin Technology Incubator, and is looking for business ideas that develop or enhance clean, sustainable energy. The only ingredient missing from the mix, Serface told the committee, is venture capital.

“We need an attractive venture capital investing environment here in Austin,” he said. “It’s a matter of calling attention to what we have here. The reality is that good things are happening, but the perception has not caught up with reality.”

Other speakers reinforced the notion that Texas and Austin could be leaders in clean energy. Dr. Robert Heubner, director of UT’s Center for Electromagnetics, said Austin needs to develop an infrastructure to get companies across what he called the “valley of death.”

“The valley of death is the gap between research and industry,” he said. “There needs to be a way to nurture the companies between the time that venture capital develops the idea to when a company is ready with operating capitol to manufacture and sell the product.”

Huebner said local government policies play a role in helping bridge the gap.

James Rhodes is a board member of an emerging company called Skyonic, which manufactures systems to clean the output from coal fired power plants, reducing the output level of toxic pollutants to near zero, and producing useful byproducts such as hydrogen and chlorine.

Rhodes said Skyonic is currently testing its system at the Fayette coal-fired power plant near LaGrange.

Austin Energy, cited as one of the nation’s most progressive city owned utilities, can play a major role in helping develop some of these technologies, though its role would need to be limited.

“We have a goal of having 20 percent renewable energy by 2020,” said John Baker, Chief Strategy Officer of Austin Energy. “We’re also looking at generating 100 megawatts of solar power by then. Both areas will provide Austin with a number of opportunities for economic development in the clean energy field.”

The owner of a vacant lot on Lake Austin – denied a positive recommendation by the Zoning and Platting Commission — will either have to seek a variance from the Board of Adjustment or go to the City Council for a zoning change without ZAP support in order to build a home on his property.

The ZAP recommended against changing the zoning on 2612 Westlake Drive from LA (Lake Austin residence) to the less-restrictive SF-1, which the landowner had requested in order to construct a single-family home on the one-half acre lot.

Under the LA zoning category, which applies to most of the land along Lake Austin, the lot is not large enough to build a single-family home. Owner Darin Davis sought permission to change the zoning to SF-1 to construct a home similar to others in the area. “I am not looking to go from a single-family to multi-family. I’m looking to go from a single-family to single-family,” he said. “I think that we’re just trying to do what everybody else has in that neighborhood. I just didn’t see where precedent would be established by doing a zoning change from LA to SF-1, when there is other SF nearby.”

But commissioners described that nearby SF-1 and SF-2 as spot zoning, and said they would be reluctant to add more SF zoning in the area. “When you look at a zoning map, and you start seeing SF-1, and people want to start subdividing those 1-acre lots, it’s not spot zoning any more,” said Commissioner Janis Pinelli. “That’s why we’re sitting up here thinking it should maybe stay LA and maybe have some variances.”

Neighbors urged the commission to reject the zoning change, instead sending Davis to the Board of Adjustment. “Our principal concern is the spot zoning. We, and many of our neighbors, are very adamant about maintaining LA zoning,” said Bob Marvin, “and we also feel it might be handled through a variance.”

But attorney Terry Irion, who represented Davis, said the correct place to address the issue was at the Zoning and Platting Commission. “I have no problem with a variance to the LA zoning district, as long as I know I’ll get it.” But Irion said taking a chance with the Board of Adjustment would put the property owner in unnecessary jeopardy. “In a variance situation, you have to prove your hardship,” he said, “and I’m not sure that it’s fair to put this property to that burden to a vote of the Board of Adjustment, because the owner did not intentionally configure this property in violation of the zoning of the City of Austin.”

The lot, which is currently vacant, was platted in 1970, when the area was not within the city limits. The territory was annexed in 1974, and the Lake Austin residence zoning category was created in the 1980s. The lot has been held vacant for the past 36 years in a family trust. “The appropriate thing would have been for the city to have zoned this conforming when it annexed,” said Irion. “It did not zone it conforming, because it was part of a much larger annexation and it got overlooked. The policy of the city is to try to bring things in as conforming.”

But commissioners were not convinced. “I was hoping we could find some solution other than denial,” said Commissioner Clarke Hammond. “I don’t necessarily have any ideas other than a variance on LA. I prefer to keep this zoned LA rather than create any more precedents in this area.” The vote to recommend denial of the zoning was 7-1, with Commissioner Stephanie Hale opposed.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Seeking a clear view . . . Joe Pinnelli, who serves on the board of directors of the Heritage Society of Austin, has been down at City Hall this week, seeking information on the city's possible intention to change the Capitol View Corridor. Pinnelli, who has helped many a political candidate, was concerned that some members of the Council might be planning to eliminate some aspects of the corridor in order to allow for taller buildings at the old Seaholm Power Plant. Pinnelli said he had visited with every member of the Travis County delegation and found none interested in stirring up that particular hornet's nest next year. If that is the city's intention, it has not been stated very clearly . . . Today's meetings . . . The Mobility Alternatives Finance Study Steering Committee will meet at 10am in the Council Chambers at City Hall. The Steering Committee will consider accepting the final report for presentation to the CAMPO Board on December 11 . . . The Downtown Commission meets at 5:30pm at the Old Pecan Street Café, 310 East Sixth St. . . . The Environmental Board meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . Oops! . . City Hall employees got a surprise break in the fresh air Tuesday afternoon when someone inadvertently (evidently) hit the fire alarm while cleaning. That was the story anyway . . . Our error . . . In Fact Daily inadvertently quoted Council Member Jennifer Kim as saying something actually said by Council Member Lee Leffingwell in its story about Wal-Mart at Northcross. The quote was: "Barring the discovery of any major flaws in the application or the approval process–they have an approved site plan–my guess is it would be illegal for the city to withhold a permit at this point without good reason." Kim said she wanted to make sure that the process used by the city had been a transparent one and that the city was following its own regulations. Kim was in Reno, Nev. yesterday attending a meeting of the National League of Cities . . . Beck Preserve dedication . . .Williamson County Commissioners Lisa Birkman, Pct. 1, and Valerie Covey, Pct. 3, and the Williamson County Conservation Foundation Board will dedicate the "Beck Preserve" on at 2pm on Friday. The Beck Preserve is comprised of 42.855 acres located on the southwest corner of R.M. 620 and Great Oaks Drive near Cedar Valley Middle School. The preserve is named after the Beck family, as the land was the former location of the Beck Ranch, owned by Eugene and GeNelle Beck. The ceremony features Rep. Mike Krusee and Williamson County Judge-elect Dan Gattis Sr. The dedication will take place at the corner of Great Oaks Drive and the parking lot for the Round Rock Independent School District Purchasing Office, 16255 Great Oaks Drive. Parking is available in the purchasing office parking lot, approximately a quarter of a mile west of R.M. 620. Following the dedication, a reception will be held in the Maple Room at the Brushy Creek Community Center, 16318 Great Oaks Drive. The public is invited to attend. In case of inclement weather, the entire ceremony will take place in the Brushy Creek Community Center Maple Room. . . . Bangladesh Day . . . The Bangladesh Association of Greater Austin (BAGA) is celebrating the 35th Victory Day of Bangladesh in Austin at Manor High School Performing Arts Center from noon to midnight on Dec. 16. The day-long event will consist of a food festival with authentic south Asian food and delicacies, cultural program with performances from kids and artists from the community and popular artists from Bangladesh and variety of stalls with Bangladeshi products. BAGA is the official association representing over 600 Bangladeshi-Americans in the Greater Austin region. Mayor Will Wynn and the City Council of Austin have declared December 16, 2006 as Bangladesh Day in Austin.

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