Over the last year, Travis County Commissioners Court, under the leadership of Judge Sarah Eckhardt, has failed to address the growing controversy surrounding the Central Healthcare District, an entity that is financially accountable to the Travis County Commissioners Court. Central Health’s lack of transparency and financial accountability is becoming an embarrassment not only to Travis County but to the Austin political and business establishment. To woo voters in 2012 to vote to support the Central Health District and its taxing authority, the Austin establishment promised that $35 million would be spent on healthcare for the poor each year. It appears today – based on an incomplete release of records– that less than $5 million has been spent on indigent care out of $105 million of District tax revenue that has been redirected to the Dell Medical Center.

Here’s one such broken promise to voters easily found on a Google search,

a specific amount of the estimated $54 million a year in new tax revenue – $35 million – would be permanently earmarked for services provided to needy patients by the medical school’s faculty and residents, who are physicians in training.  Roser and Haurwitz, UT: No tax hike, no med school, Austin American-Statesman (TX) – October 14, 2012

Central Health’s annual $35 million failed promise has been revealed by two intrepid volunteer attorneys — Fred Lewis, and Bob Ozer. The dynamic duo have demonstrated courage, heart and dogged determination to stand up to those involved in what appears to be an illegal use and transfer of indigent health care funds to the UT-Dell Medical Center.

This Tuesday Lewis opined to Travis County Judge Sarah Eckardt and Travis County’s four commissioners that the County’s own auditor “has asked for over a year for itemized, detailed records on the expenditures of Central Health’s funds by third parties, such as UT Dell and Seton. No such records have yet to be turned over to her. Why not?”

Bob Ozer questioned the maneuvering to allow those being audited to conduct the audit themselves. It doesn’t take a law degree with expertise in tax law (as Ozer has) to understand the absurdity of self-policing in this case. Eckhardt is no slouch when it comes to the law, an attorney herself not to mention a well-known policy wonk. Many of the very good people who supported Sarah Eckhardt for County Judge in 2014 cannot understand why she is allowing this charade to continue.

Watch the Lewis and Ozer 8-minute testimony last Tuesday here.

The next day (Wednesday), UT Dell Medical School and Central Health released an audit that, as Lewis put it, “is nothing more than a shiny distraction to get the public to take their eye off the main ball.” The audit purports that Central Health taxpayer funds have been spent in accordance with its affiliation agreement with the Medical School.

Lewis laid out in a press release on Thursday that,The issue is how exactly were Central Health funds spent and whether the $105 million and growing were spent in compliance with Chapter 281 and Chapter 61 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, which require Central Health funds to be spent on health care for the poor. The affiliation agreement cannot change Central Health’s statutory authority, which any high school civic student knows.”

Lewis further claims that, “The affiliation agreement was written by Central Health’s lawyers to give discretion to spend the funds however UT wanted on the medical school. But is that legal, when Dell is using the funds for its development officers, communications personnel, Dean’s assistants, admissions officers, and business officers — who presumably aren’t practicing medicine or even supporting the practice of medicine?”

 How has UT spent the $105 million? How did each dollar benefit the poor? Is it true they spent less than $5 million of the $105 million in the last 3 years on health care services? Is that what taxpayers were promised? Is this what the law requires? Is it fair to the poor and sick? These are all questions the public deserves answers to.

Lewis and Ozer so far have only been given records showing that $2.9 million has been spent on indigent healthcare services.

The Del Valle community’s promised clinic has not materialized. Rebecca Birch, president of the Del Valle ISD Board of Trustees reported to The Austin Bulldog, ““My citizens have been paying taxes for 10 years and gotten no services. We have the neediest people in Travis County and gotten no services. I’d like to see we get something for the money we’ve been paying.”

These backup charts and documentation provided by Lewis and Ozer reveal an alarming redirection of Central Health’s funds.

The amount of money we’re discussing here – so far — is $250,000 million. That’s $105 million given to the UT Medical School, an additional $100 million in “transition costs” to Seton and $46 million dollars in what appears to be losses by vendor Sendero, which so far appears to have escaped a planned “audit”.

By now, we hope you’re asking yourself what’s so controversial about Ozer and Lewis asking for nothing more than an independent performance audit. That is precisely what we hope you will ask Sarah Eckhardt. You might remind her of her campaign slogan – Experience, Courage, Heart — or ask her what she thinks her dad, the late Bob Eckhardt, would do in her shoes.

For a more complete picture, we suggest you review this fact sheet on the problem and these backup charts and documentation, and five recommendations by Lewis and Ozer..

We also highly recommend Ken Martin’s (The Austin Bulldog) piece from just a few days ago for additional illuminating facts. One of them is why only 9 people attended public meetings about Central Health despite the $17,500 contract paid for public outreach.

HERE’S WHAT CAN YOU DO, and please do!

Contact the Travis County Commissioners – especially Judge Eckhardt – to support these five accountability amendments by Lewis and Ozer. There were already presented to the Court on Tuesday, August 29, 2017.

How to reach the Travis County Commissioners

Email or call:
Sarah.eckhardt@traviscountytx.gov, 512.854.9555 (County Judge, most important to reach)

Jeff.Travillion@traviscountytx.org, 512.854.9111 (Precinct 1)

Brigid.Shea@traviscountytx.org, 512.854.9222 (Precinct 2)

Gerald.Daugherty@traviscountytx.org, 512.854.9333 (Precinct 3)

Margaret.Gomez@traviscountytx.org, 512.854.9444 (Precinct 4)