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Central Health critic stirs more trouble

Wednesday, September 28, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

One of the activists who led the charge against Central Health during the recent tussle involving budget transparency has come out swinging against a proposed deal between Travis County and the hospital district.

Attorney Fred Lewis called Central Health’s offer to provide the Travis County Commissioners Court with an audit of its $35 million financial arrangement with the University of Texas Dell Medical School “totally unacceptable.”

That proposal was included in a letter sent to County Judge Sarah Eckhardt by Central Health Chair Katrina Daniel on Sept. 19, the day before the court approved the district’s Fiscal Year 2016-2017 budget.

That letter requested a change in the county’s policies for Central Health that would require the district to share with the court the findings of an annual audit of the district’s finances. Daniel also said that Central Health is working with the medical school to develop auditing procedures for the $35 million in tax revenues and grants that the district gives to the school through its partnership with the university and Seton Healthcare Family.

“The agreed upon procedures will be performed by an independent third party retained by Central Health,” Daniel wrote.

That proved to be the offending passage to Lewis.

“Central Health is too clever by half,” he said. “To have a truly independent, trustworthy audit, the auditor must be retained by Travis County – not Central Health. Central Health can pay the county for the audit, but the auditor’s client must be Travis County so that the auditor’s loyalties are to only their client, Travis County, and its taxpayers.”

Lewis, along with other activists including the League of United Latin American Citizens, has raised concerns that the $35 million going to the school is neither being adequately tracked nor fulfilling Central Health’s mandate to provide medical care for low-income residents. Central Health and its allies argue that the medical school will provide a long-term benefit to the county’s indigent population by training new doctors and introducing new health programs.

Eckhardt, who indicated that the court will re-examine its policies with Central Health in the coming weeks, declined to comment on Lewis’ concerns on Tuesday.

However, Commissioner Brigid Shea told the Austin Monitor that she has heard frustrations similar to Lewis’. “The question I hear most from people is, ‘What are we getting for the $35 million, and are we getting the health care for the poor that was a big part of the promise?’” Shea said. “We all should be smart enough to figure out a way to get that information. And I don’t think they’re trying to hide it. It’s just a new level of detail that’s being asked for.”

Steve Scheibel, a spokesman for Dell Medical School, said, “We embrace transparency from every angle. We’re working with Central Health to make sure the people of Travis County know how we’re using public money to improve this community’s health. Our community needs new models of care delivery, and this investment is vital in creating those models.”

A spokesman for Central Health was unavailable for comment late Tuesday afternoon.

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