Travis County residents, leaders call for clearer communication from Central Health

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Over 40 Travis County-area residents and local leaders attended a public input meeting hosted by Central Health on March 19 to provide feedback on how the public health entity can better address the needs of county residents with low income.

The meeting was held after Central Health was presented with the results of an independent performance review by consulting firm Germane Solutions on Feb. 19.

Topics discussed included increasing access to specialty care physicians and diversifying funding sources to include greater philanthropic contributions. Many attendees focused on Germane Solution’s recommendation to improve communication efforts within Travis County.

Regardless of an “above average” rating among public health entities, Tracy Kulik, a representative of Germane Solutions, said Central Health has struggled to communicate to the public what it does well and what the public health entity is and is not responsible for.

Kulik and many attendees at the meeting said this harms both Central Health’s outreach efforts to populations in need as well as the public perception of what tax dollars are spent on through Central Health.

When asked how Central Health can improve communication efforts, some participants at the meeting said that too much emphasis on the financial operations of the public health entity distracts from outreach efforts to potential beneficiaries of Central Health’s services.

“What I don’t know about how a computer or a car works could float a battleship but I still know how to use a computer and drive a car. Why do [patients]need to know the inner workings of Central Health? They just want to know where to go. They want to get good services,” attendee Mary Cullinane said.

Much of the confusion surrounding the services provided by Central Health stems from its partnership model with a “multi-tiered” system of relationships. The report stated and attendees agreed that there is not a clear understanding of the roles of the CommUnity Care Collaborative, which is a separate 501(c)(3) corporation formed through Central Health’s partnership with Seton Health Care Family; CommUnity Care Clinics, which are Central Health’s primarily federally funded health clinics; and Sendero Health Plans, Central Health’s health maintenance organization.

Many participants said that clarifying Central Health’s role in each of its partnerships would help more potential beneficiaries of services understand how to access them as well as help taxpayers understand where their tax money goes.

“There are different ways of addressing two very different populations, one that is never going to use the service and the other is maybe more often going to use the service but might not care as much about voter education,” attendee Joanna Saucedo said.

In early April Central Health will conduct two public workshops to further develop a strategic plan followed by an evaluation of the fiscal effects of proposed changes to the fiscal year 2018-19 budget. Central Health CEO Mike Geeslin said he hopes the next two workshops will allow residents to take part in developing a strategic plan for Central Health moving forward.

“I’m really excited when I see this kind of engagement. I think it helps us make better decisions,” Geeslin said following the meeting.

See the upcoming workshop dates and locations below.

April 3. 6:30-8 p.m. Central Health Southeast Health & Wellness Center. 2901 Montopolis Drive, Austin.

April 5. 6:30-8 p.m. Lanier High School. 1201 Payton Gin Road, Austin.

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Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Northwest Austin reporter. She is also responsible for citywide health care and entertainment coverage. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism in May 2017.
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