September 27, 2023
AUSTIN – Today (Tuesday, Sept. 26) the Travis County Commissioners Court voted to approve the fiscal 2024 proposed budget for Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district. The commissioners also set Central Health’s 2024 property tax rate at 10.07 cents per $100 valuation. For the county’s average assessed home value, that’s a tax increase of about $56 a year.
On the tax rate, the court voted 4-1 for approval. County Judge Andy Brown, Pct. 1 Commissioner Jeff Travillion, Pct. 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea, and Pct. 3 Commissioner Ann Howard all voted in favor; Pct. 4 commissioner Margaret J Gómez voted no. On the budget itself, Shea abstained and Gómez again voted no.
This budget will allow Central Health to commence Year 1 of its Healthcare Equity Implementation Plan, a seven-year, $680 million initiative to repair Travis County’s healthcare safety net for residents with low income. The Central Health Board of Managers, which first approved the FY 24 proposed budget on September 6, amended it on Sept. 25 to add $2 million in funding for inmate healthcare in Travis County’s jails, as requested by Commissioners Court, and another $500,000 in funding to support clinical services at the Black Men’s Health Clinic.
Support for Central Health at the Commissioners Court hearing came from representatives of Peoples’ Community Clinic, Integral Care, the Black Men’s Health Clinic, Central Presbyterian Church, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, the Hungry Hill Foundation, and the Travis County Anti-Poverty Project, among other community organizations and advocates. “I appreciate the strategic effort Central Health has put into serving lower-income individuals and families, including musicians,” said HAAM CEO Paul Scott; Central Health provides subsidized health insurance to HAAM members through its subsidiary Sendero Health Plans.
“Our partnerships with Black Men’s Health Clinic and Central Health have become creative efforts to get unhoused individuals into healthcare services, offering these individuals resources so they can start living healthy lives,” said Hungry Hill Foundation executive director Chase Wright, whose group works with the community of nearly 200 African-American adults living unhoused in parks near 12th Street and Springdale Road. Central Health outreach workers work with unhoused clients of Hungry Hill, Central Presbyterian and other agencies to enroll them in the Medical Access Program and get connected with the healthcare they need.
Several members of the Board of Managers also addressed commissioners during public testimony, advocating that the Commissioners Court stay the course and support the continued implementation of the Healthcare Equity Plan as developed and without delay. “What Central Health is doing is literally building the care system that people need,” Manager Amit Motwani told the court. “We cannot afford to stop building and providing the best healthcare possible.”
“Picture a community potluck where everybody’s brought their best dishes, but when you sit down to eat, it turns out nobody brought plates or forks or spoons,” said Board Treasurer Maram Museitif. “That’s what our healthcare system is often like; there’s excellent care being provided but there’s no strategic planning. We have painstakingly crafted this budget to respond to people’s real needs.”
“We now have one of the few opportunities we’ve ever had to make our healthcare more inclusive and comprehensive,” said Board Vice-Chair Dr. Cynthia Brinson. ”We have new clinics coming on line, we have our specialty clinic coming online before the end of the year. We are actually performing a lot of the services our patients are asking for, but they need time to come to fruition.”
Said Manager Shannon Jones, “Right now we have plans to reduce healthcare disparities. And there are lots of elements in those plans that will be coming forward in the next two years. These efforts are beginning to take place and we need to focus on the future. In order to be successful to address these disparities, we need to have funding.”
Dr. Charles Bell, chair of the Board of Managers, told commissioners during Central Health’s budget presentation, “We all strongly believe that the health of our community is of utmost importance, regardless of whether an individual can afford health care.” Back in 2018, Bell noted, “This court requested that we stop haphazardly funding requests and create a strategic plan for healthcare delivery. We took that request seriously. This plan establishes an equitable, effective, and efficient healthcare system under Central Health’s control [to] high-quality health care to lower-income residents of Travis County.”
Central Health President and CEO Mike Geeslin thanked the court for their collaboration, “This is a community-wide effort that Central Health can’t do alone. We are deeply grateful the court, community advocates and partners, but mostly the people we are honored and privileged to serve.”