Medical District coming to life

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Medical District coming to lifeAbout a year from now the first students at The University of Texas Dell Medical School will begin their studies.

The creation of the medical school as well as a teaching hospital—inside what is known as the Medical District—coincide with plans outlined by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, as part of his “10 Goals in 10 Years” initiative. Officials plan to establish a nearby Innovation Zone in which private industry and health care startups can have access to the Medical District and possibly work hand-in-hand with partner organizations to spur further commercial and professional advances.

Dell Medical School Dean Dr. Clay Johnston said he thinks the creation of the Medical District and Innovation Zone will change Austin’s health care system and how the community receives care.

“Health care is not what we would like it to be today,” Johnston said. “We have this opportunity to start from scratch and try to build better health and health care for our community. That’s a mandate other schools don’t necessarily feel and one that they’re not as able to deliver because they’re all built on the old system of treat the sickest people … [or use the resources we have]to keep the population as healthy as possible.”

Johnston said the health care industry must better focus on preventive care and the quality of care, even suggesting health professionals be paid based on the continued health of their patients.

Medical school anchor

Construction on the 515,000-square-foot Dell Medical School campus—the first and only medical school in Austin—will be completed in May 2016. Students of the program will gain hands-on experience at clinics throughout Austin that serve residents eligible for care through Travis County’s hospital district, Central Health. They will also work at Seton Healthcare Family’s new teaching hospital, which will take over services currently provided at University Medical Center Brackenridge.

The teaching hospital will open in 2017 and will be called Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas. The facility will provide resources for those in need of care, including a trauma center, but it also will provide a resource for students who have advanced far enough in their training to gain hands-on patient experience, Johnston said.

“You can’t just use pretend patients,” he said. “We actually do that, but at some point you have to transition [students]in a very supervised place and atmosphere teaching them how to actually do the job.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he sees Dell Medical School and the associated Innovation Zone as an advantage to the community in many ways.

“I think it will become one of the most important assets and resources in the community on several levels,” Adler said. “I think it will have direct application to us being a healthier community. I think the merging of the health care that’s provided … and tech industry that we have, I’m hoping, will generate new and innovative ways of delivering health care and making health care accessible.”

Medical District coming to lifeThe new Medical District and Innovation Zone will provide new jobs, including opportunities for the middle class that do not necessarily require a four-year degree, he said. The broader effort also gives Austin a greater global presence, Adler said, and attracts more talent from throughout the world.

Most patient treatment will occur at Dell Seton Medical Center, spokesperson Steven Taylor said. It is also where medical researchers can do bedside research and conduct trials of new procedures and medicines, he said.

“It’s an opportunity for the researchers and doctors to try new and innovative things to improve the care of patients,” Taylor said. “It’s also an opportunity for Central Texas to have the latest, greatest medical procedures first.”

Benefits beyond downtown

While Seton will operate the new teaching hospital, Central Health, which provides another piece of a collaborative puzzle to change Austin’s health care system, will manage nearby property slated for redevelopment.

“We want to make sure we somehow complement and supplement what’s being created in the Medical District,” said Juan Garza, Central Health vice president of financial management. “But we also want to do the best we can to create opportunities to increase revenues for the district because that in turn can be used for medical services for our population.”

Central Health’s mission is to make health care accessible for the most vulnerable Travis County residents. The health care provider will soon begin redeveloping the 14.3 acres it owns next to the Medical District. Lease agreements will be worked out for tenants of the property, generating revenue that helps fund clinics throughout the county, Garza said.

Central Health and its partners provide a variety of primary and specialty care services focused in the areas of mental health, women’s health, disabilities and substance abuse, among others.

UT also announced a partnership with Huston-Tillotson University earlier this year to address mental health issues in underserved East Austin communities. The Sandra Joy Anderson Community Health and Wellness Center will be the physical representation of the partnership and opens Aug. 31 on the Huston-Tillotson campus after breaking ground in June.

The center will also help increase the number of African-American physicians in Central Texas, District 1 Council Member Ora Houston said. Dell Medical School and Huston-Tillotson both fall within Houston’s District 1 boundaries.

“I’m excited because hopefully with the Innovation Zone … there will be some spinoff industries that will be placed further in District 1 so people can find jobs, employment, health care,” Houston said. “Something that will hopefully bring some energy further into District 1.”

Having the Medical District and Innovation Zone so close to East Austin could help show children in lower-income households new professional tracks to consider, Houston said. With the Medical District and Innovation Zone progressing on schedule, Adler said the city is faced with a unique opportunity.

“I think our job is to help provide as fertile ground as we can for ideas to be able to get planted and to take root and blossom,” Adler said. “This is just an incredible opportunity for the city. The dream and vision are exciting and extraordinary, and it is becoming more than just a vision. It is becoming close enough to touch.”

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  1. If the UT and COA powers-that-be would actually use their brains and present a common position to the State Preservation Board with a commitment for early/quick construction of the “new” Red River Street segment south of 15th Street (actually along the alignment of the original Red River that was displaced in the 1970s), it would not only greatly mitigate the snafu offset intersection that will produce much congestion along 15th Street during the interim but also (and perhaps more importantly) completely eliminate the need to redesign and reconfigure the Waller Creek Tunnel intake structure at great expense because of its encroachment into the designated Capitol View Corridor from the current lower-elevation street due to the higher elevation of the original alignment.

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Jennifer covers Austin City Council, its various committees and local business news. After covering Florida's 2013 legislative session she graduated from Georgia Southern University and joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2014.

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