Questions were raised during a Travis County Commissioner’s Court yesterday about how UT Austin’s Dell Medical School spends taxpayer money.
In 2012, voters approved a measure that raised taxes in the Central Health taxing district and helped fund the new school. Part of the agreement is that the school would improve access to health care services for low-income people, and activists said they want to make sure that’s happening.
Fred Lewis, a community activist, told the commissioner’s court that Central Health has the power to do only one thing: provide health care to low income people. He says that, when Central Health dollars were given to the med school, there should have been assurances that they went to indigent care.
“As a governmental entity, Central health has to account for its taxpayer funds and properly document that the funds went to only statutorily authorized uses,” Lewis says.
Lewis says millions have been doled out, and it's unclear whether it all went to indigent health care.
But Scott Wallace with Dell Medical School says this agreement was never supposed to be exactly like Central Health’s relationship with other hospitals and clinics.
“The mission of Dell Med and our relationship with central health is based on improving the health of our community, but the way we are going at doing that is both through training physicians – in a new model of care delivery and a new model of education – but also in terms of designing new models of care delivery,” Wallace says.
And the school has already started doing that, he says.
Dell Med’s Dean, Clay Johnston, told the court the school improved access to specialty care like orthopedics for low income people in the community—as well a new perinatal program.
However, Lewis argues just because the school isn’t a hospital, doesn’t mean local officials shouldn’t keep track of how money is spent.
“The notion that you cannot provide documentation to support your services because you are not using a fee for service model,” he says, “my expert friends tell me is just not so.”
Lewis is asking for an independent, third-party audit of past payments to the school and its arrangement with Central Health. He's also asking that local officials require more detailed accounting in the future – to make sure money is going indigent care.
County Judge Sarah Eckhardt says the court is looking into updating its accounting practices.
Wallace says the school is also working with local officials to make sure they can fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities to the community.
“And we are looking forward to being good community partners," he says. "We are absolutely completely open to transparency and we welcome the chance to build more trust with the broader community that’s here."
Judge Eckhardt says she and others will be reviewing the matter in the coming weeks.