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County, city agree to establish joint public health commission

Thursday, February 24, 2022 by Seth Smalley

On Tuesday, with staff’s recommendation, a solid majority of the Travis County Commissioners Court voted in favor of joining the city of Austin to create a joint public health commission. The motion comes as many in the community criticize the work of Central Health, which was created in 2004 by the voters of Travis County.

The city passed its side of the resolution at the end of last September.

“I just think that this is a critically important item,” said Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion, who joined commissioners Brigid Shea and Ann Howard and County Judge Andy Brown in supporting the motion. “Trying to put together an apparatus to talk and reach out to make sure that we are aligned – to make sure that we aren’t working against each other, we are working with each other.”

Commissioner Margaret Gómez abstained from the vote, saying, “I want to see the results of a commission. I think I’ve seen too many commissions created, and we staff people up and still we have a public that is very frustrated about all kinds of things that government does or does not do.”

Gómez had previously expressed hesitance about the motion, saying a joint public health commission might be redundant with Central Health. She instead mulled the idea of strengthening and directing Central Health to do a different and better job.

“(Central Health was) created with a mission to take care of poor people and indigent communities,” Gómez said. “We turned over all of our resources to them so that they would take care of indigents and I think that’s what they’ve kind of been doing. So it just seems to me if we created them to do that, I think we need to make sure that they are accomplishing their mission.”

Shea reiterated some of the weaknesses of Central Health in addition to highlighting the differences between the roles of Central Health and a public health commission.

“At the very beginning of the pandemic, I think many of us were stunned to see that Central Health closed all the clinics on the east side,” Shea said. “And part of the argument they made for it was, they weren’t getting that many people in the door and they had staff that were needed elsewhere … it took a lot of conversations and a lot of pushing to get them to reopen the clinics.”

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.

Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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