Bexar County and University Health on March 15 announced plans to establish a public health division within University Health with county and UH officials saying such an agency can better promote comprehensive population health objectives to support health equity, acute care, preventive health care and public health emergency response.
County and University Health officials said UH is in a unique position to advance regional public health objectives given its status as the only locally owned health system in Bexar County, its Level I trauma center that serves a 22-county area of South Texas and its academic medical center affiliation with University of Texas Health San Antonio.
According to a news release, UH advanced its reputation during the COVID-19 pandemic by quickly setting up drive-thru testing for local health care workers and first responders, and helping to provide the community with accurate, timely and evidence-based information on all aspects of the virus.
“Over the past two years, we have learned a great deal about the important role of public health experts during a worldwide pandemic and the significant responsibility University Health has to improve the good health of our community in collaboration with the county, the city and other health care providers.” UH President and CEO George Hernández Jr. said.
County and UH officials said as an integrated health system, UH promotes community health through preventive care, treatment of illness and injury, and access to comprehensive health care services.
The new public health division will leverage these areas, including effective communication, a skilled health care workforce, community partnerships and a sophisticated technology infrastructure, to improve population health and health equity throughout Bexar County, the release said.
“More than ever, the University Health teams have seen how the tracking and analysis of key data points, the rapid mobilization of resources and effective communication efforts work together to help reduce community transmission, hospitalizations and deaths,” UH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bryan Alsip said.
“These public health aspects of University Health’s mission are not new; however, we do see opportunity to organize and align these resources under this new public health division to continue to improve our response and coordination to this ongoing public health emergency, and to be best prepared for the next one.”
The release said this division will collaborate with agencies and organizations, such as the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, Bexar County, the city of San Antonio, and education and health care groups, without duplicating services.
Essential public health services, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will serve as a framework to align existing functions, develop new services and establish priorities, the release said.
The new division will also help to address public health disparities that exist in the San Antonio area, county and UH officials said.
According to the release, several current community-based initiatives and systems serve as a solid foundation for the new division, and that UH’s initial effort will concentrate on restructuring existing public health-related functions in a way that enhances its commitment to population health and health equity.
Some examples, the release said, include enhancing an existing network of health clinics throughout Bexar County to better focus on comprehensive health care needs of pre-teenagers, teens and young adults.
Additionally, the new public health division will help to develop four school-based health centers to offer walk-in care for students and families, and two mobile health units that provide preventive health, immunization, primary care and mammography services at schools, churches, community centers and businesses, among other objectives.