Three Southeast Travis County residents filed a lawsuit against Central Health on Wednesday claiming misuse of public funds that should be used to provide health care to the poor.
Fred Lewis, an attorney assisting on the case, said the key issue is Central Health is spending taxpayer money on items unrelated to the district’s mission, which is providing health care to the poor.
Lewis said he found that The University of Texas Dell Medical School received $105 million from Central Health, and $3 million went toward health care. Expenditures funding services in Bastrop County and donations to the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce were also found, Lewis said.
Regarding Central Health’s allocation of tax dollars to Dell Medical School, a news release issued by Central Health regarding the lawsuit stated: “We are confident Central Health’s investment in Dell Medical School at The University of Texas is legal and appropriate.”
In an effort to increase transparency, Central Health and Dell Medical School collaborated on a community report analyzing the impact of their partnership on the community at large. According to Central Health’s release, Central Health saw a 6 percent increase in the number of people served in the county from 2015 to 2016, with a total of 143,642 Travis County residents with low income served in 2016.
Richard Franklin III, one of the plaintiffs in the case and a resident of Del Valle, said the plaintiffs are looking for Central Health to be transparent and accountable with how it is spending taxpayer money. He said the plaintiffs are also hoping to get more services to the Del Valle area.
A representative from Central Health responded to these complaints by stating Central Health is in the planning process of increasing clinical presence in the area. This includes communicating with residents and analyzing data regarding patient population needs.
One proposed solution includes opening a clinic in a shared space in Del Valle two to three days a week and then following it with a permanent clinic in its own space.
Central Health will discuss possible solutions at the board of managers meeting Oct. 25.
According to a recent press release, the plaintiffs—Rebecca Birch, Franklin and Esther Govea—are seeking a declaratory judgment in Travis County State District Court that Central Health must spend its funds exclusively on health care for the poor.
They also seek to prevent Central Health from spending funds on economic development, medical education, non-health care activities or health care for residents who are not poor.
“We have asked repeatedly for Central Health to spend its tax dollars according to the law on behalf of health care for our county’s many poor,” Birch said. “Neither Central Health’s board nor the Travis County commissioners, who are its financial overseers, have listened. This lawsuit is our last option.”
Dr. Clay Johnston, dean of Dell Medical School, responded with an official statement saying: “We agree with Central Health that our partnership is legal and appropriate, and we look forward to continuing that work to serve all of Travis County and deliver on the vision the taxpayers support.”
The statement also detailed the recent opening of Dell Medical School’s UT Health Austin clinics that focus on specialty care for Travis County residents.
According to the release from Central Health, there are approximately 300 medical residents working in Travis County hospitals and clinics that serve people with low income.
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said in a statement released Wednesday the Commissioners Court’s primary responsibility regarding Central Health is to serve as a fiscal watch dog. She said the court would continue its search and demand for honesty and accountability when Central Health makes investments.
“Our community remains divided on the legal question of funding a medical school with property tax dollars as a means of supporting that mission,” Eckhardt said. “I have said for some time that the legal questions need to be settled, with some finality, and that the best and only forum for doing that is in a court of law. In this respect, I welcome this suit and pray for a speedy resolution.”