Northwest Austin Health Care Guide: A roundup of health care news from your community

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Central Health’s operative abilities set to grow

With Texas leading the nation in the number of residents without health insurance coverage, per the Texas Alliance for Health Care, Central Health and private hospitals in Travis County are looking for ways to provide health care services to low-income and indigent residents.

Now, a bill recently signed by Gov. Greg Abbott may increase the amount of federal dollars coming into the county to pay for these services.

Senate Bill 1350, authored by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, allows Central Health to create a local provider participation fund, or LPPF, in Travis County.

LPPFs allow private hospitals to access matched federal funds for uncompensated health care costs incurred while providing services to uninsured patients.

Private hospitals in Travis County would pay an established rate of their net revenue and pool it into the LPPF fund. Those pooled funds would then be combined or matched with federal dollars, which would then be redistributed by state and federal government to county hospitals, according to Central Health.

Another bill penned by Watson—SB 1142—was signed into law by Abbott on May 7 and now allows Central Health to contract or hire physicians with the express purpose of delivering medical needs.

“This means Central Health physicians will now be able to make medical decisions about appropriate care for patients,” Central Health President and CEO Mike Geeslin said in a May 23 press release.

Previously, physicians employed by Central Health only served in administrative or executive roles. Physicians hired by Central Health were not able to deliver care to patients due to constraints in state law.

Central Health now has the ability to bring on physicians to provide direct care to indigent patients, according to the bill. Additionally, SB 1142 also allows Central Health physicians to perform operational duties.

St. David’s North Austin hospital campus debuts outpatient imaging center building expansion

Ahead of continued population growth in the Northwest Austin area, inpatient and outpatient services at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center will now be provided in separate buildings. St. David’s held a soft opening for its new North Austin Medical Center Outpatient Imaging Center in February. The hospital system officially announced the opening of the new building to the public in May.

“As Northwest Austin continues to grow, so does the need for convenient and accessible healthcare,” said Tom Jackson, CEO of St. David’s North Austin Medical Center, in a May 2 news release.

The new 7,950-square-foot center provides imaging services for patients. The outpatient imaging center is equipped with two MRI suites as well as CT scan, ultrasound, radiology and nuclear medicine capabilities. According to St. David’s, one of the MRI suites features a system that specializes in imaging pathological conditions involving the brain, spine, breast and musculoskeletal system.

Previously, inpatient and outpatient procedures were hosted in the same building at St. David’s North Austin campus. The expansion took eight months to complete construction, and approximately 16 additional staff have been hired to operate the new outpatient imaging center.

Austin State Hospital replacement gets state funds

State lawmakers in the 86th Legislative Session approved a bill that will provide $165 million over two years toward the reconstruction of the over 100-year-old Austin State Hospital.

In December, the University of Texas Dell Medical School released a report as requested by legislators revealing a master plan for the $283 million replacement of ASH.

Gov. Greg Abbot signed the bill into law on June 10.

Lawmakers have planned to dole out state funding over the course of two legislative sessions. Stephen Strakowski, associate vice president for regional mental health at Dell Medical School, told Travis County commissioners on June 4 that the medical school expects to receive another $120 million from the state in 2021 in anticipation of opening the new campus in 2023.

Strakowski further told commissioners he expects work to start soon.

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Iain Oldman
Iain Oldman joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after spending two years in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he covered Pittsburgh City Council. His byline has appeared in PublicSource, WESA-FM and Scranton-Times Tribune. Iain worked as the reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition and is now working as the reporter for Northwest Austin.
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