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Travis County bush

Commissioners Court could choose critic for Central Health board

Tuesday, November 29, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

The Travis County Commissioners Court is officially thinking about putting an outspoken critic of Central Health on the hospital district’s board of managers.

On Tuesday, the court will interview attorney Fred Lewis for the open position along with three other candidates.

For months, Lewis has waged an offensive against Central Health and its arrangement to channel $35 million each year toward the University of Texas’ nascent Dell Medical School.

Along with members of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and Help Ensure Accountable Leadership and Transparency in Health (HEALTH), Lewis has charged that Central Health’s operations are murky and deviate from its primary mission of providing health care for indigent residents.

District officials have pushed back against those accusations and publicly embraced transparency-minded changes that the court recently imposed on the district.

In his application packet, Lewis declared, “Health care for the poor has been a passion of mine for years. I want to aid Central Health in improving its community engagement with the poor, financial and operational transparency, ethics policies, compliance with the legislative intent of Chapter 281, and the provision of the best medical care possible for the poor in Travis County.”

Chapter 281 is the part of the Texas Health and Human Services Code that deals with local hospital districts.

Lewis is competing for the board seat against Abigail Aiken, an assistant professor at UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs who has an extensive background in health care policy; Marina Sifuentes, the executive director of the Brookside Women’s Medical Center and former president of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy; and Rudy Colmenero, an attorney and certified public accountant.

A joint working group made up of county commissioners and City Council members whittled the four candidates from a longer list of 11 applicants. The open position is the lone seat on the board that is filled by a consensus pick between both the city and the county. Each entity gets four exclusive appointees apiece.

Council’s Health and Human Services Committee will consider the candidates at its next meeting on Dec. 5. If that body’s decision differs from the court’s pick on Tuesday, the working group, whose members include commissioners Brigid Shea and Margaret Gómez, Council Member Ora Houston, and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, will have to hash out a compromise.

The ultimate decision could have implications for Central Health’s ongoing search for a new president. Patricia Young Brown, who has served as the district’s chief executive since its formation in 2005, is set to leave on Dec. 31. Last week, the board of managers appointed chief operating officer Larry Wallace as her interim replacement.

The procedure to find a permanent successor is still taking shape and will likely take months to finish.

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