Critics renew allegations of misspending at UT Dell Medical School

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Critics that previously questioned the millions of dollars sent by Central Health each year to The University of Texas Dell Medical School issued a report Wednesday that they said shows the school is misspending money that should be used for indigent health care.

Austin lawyer Fred Lewis said during a press conference that records obtained from UT through the Texas Public Information Act show about 84 percent of the Dell Medical School’s faculty and staff compensation is paid with Central Health money.

He added that the records show two-thirds of the money Central Health sends to the medical school is spent on administrative costs and argued that taxes paid to Central Health are obligated to support health care services for low-income and underinsured Travis County residents.

Lewis was joined by lawyer Bob Ozer and former state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, as well as members of the advocacy group HEALTH for Travis County.

They called for UT’s Board of Regents to conduct an independent, third-party investigation of Dell Medical School’s spending.

“There is no other hospital district that has the relationship that Central Health has with UT,” Lewis said.

Dell Medical School Dean Clay Johnston said in a statement Wednesday that the school “has used local taxpayer funding exclusively to achieve the goals and meet the obligations specified by Central Health and set out by voters in the historic 2012 election to support the medical school.”

Johnston said Dell Medical School is already working to improve the health of low-income Travis County residents or those without health insurance. He added that paying staff salaries is the school’s biggest expense and that “Dell Med conducts strict salary comparisons and uses standard academic reimbursement rates (corrected for cost of living) to ensure compensation here corresponds with the market.

“The school strives in everything it does — and especially in its use of public money — to provide a return on the investment of Travis County voters and meet Central Health’s requirements to help mold a model healthy community,” Johnston said. “The people of Travis County voted to fund a medical school. We are delivering that medical school on time and already with substantial community benefits, and we’re still in the earliest years.”

During a community progress update Jan. 30, Johnston said Dell Medical School expects to gradually reduce its reliance on Central Health money, which the school projects will cover 49 percent of its total expenditures for fiscal year 2016-17.

Johnston also said the school intends to boost its investment in indigent health care in Travis County beginning in 2018.

Since 2014, Central Health has sent Dell Medical School $105 million in $35 million annual increments.

The financial relationship between the health district and the school began after Travis County voters approved a ballot measure in 2012 to improve local health care delivery and support the school’s creation, among other objectives. By approving it, voters agreed to raise Central Health’s tax rate by 5 cents to 12.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

Ozer said Wednesday that despite voters approving Central Health’s financial support of Dell Medical School, the fact that Central Health’s mission to serve poor and uninsured residents is set by state law means the public health district should not have authority to give money to the university.

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