Betty Dunkerley at OHAN.
By Travis Atkins
Former city councilmember Betty Dunkerley spoke in support of Proposition 1 at the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods (OHAN) monthly meeting last Wednesday at ACC Pinnacle. The proposition, on the ballot in November, would allow for funding of a new University of Texas medical school in Travis County.
Central Texas is the fastest growing area for 50-64 year-olds and the second fastest growing area for senior citizens, according to Dunkerley.
“With the growing population and the growing of these two segments, we can look down the road two or three years and see that we already have a doctor shortage of 700 doctors in this area,” Dunkerley said. “So it is very critical that we do some strategy in order to get more physicians into this area to help all of us as we get older.”
The proposition would raise property taxes on homeowners in Travis County from a little over seven cents to a little over 12 cents per 100 dollars of property value. Dunkerley said this figure represents about half of what most hospital districts in Texas pay.
The taxpayers would foot 10 percent of the bill as UT has agreed to fund the building of the facility and pay for half of the operations and maintenance.
“If you have a $200,000 house, that’s $100 a year or about $8.50 a month,” Dunkerley said.
Among the reasons for passing the legislation Dunkerley cites the economic impact. She said over ten years, 15,000 jobs will be created, it will generate over two billion dollars of economic activity in the area and it will really be a drawing card for biotech companies.
“We know that more than 80 percent of doctors that train and get their residency in a certain area tend to practice in that area, so that would help us get future doctors here, Dunkerley said. “The second thing is the faculty and the residents help us serve the needs of those 200,000 patients without health insurance.”
A federal government program called Intergovernmental Transfer (IGT) would take any money raised in Travis County for the facility and it would send back two and a half times that amount of money to fund the project. The program lasts through 2016.
The question was raised as to why the taxpayers were asked to fund the project and not the state since the school is for a state institution.
“If we tried to go to the legislature and get that money, it would be like Hwy. 290,” Dunkerley said. “It would be 20 years and we wouldn’t have it. We don’t know if the state or the feds are ever going to help us so we need to pull up our boots and take care of our problem in this area.”
Facilities to treat severe illnesses like cancer are part of the plan. This would allow patients to be treated here in Austin instead of having to go to Houston or somewhere else in the country, Dunkerley said.
“The other thing this will allow us to do is to make our community clinics a lot more efficient and a lot more modern to prevent folks from going to the emergency room,” Dunkerley said. “ER patients are not there for emergencies and it’s the most expensive.”
Mental health services will also be increased to reduce the overcrowding in mental facilities.
“There are times when no matter how good of insurance you have, if you have a mental health crisis, you probably will not be able to get a bed,” Dunkerley said.
Right now there is an agreement with UT Southwest Medical Center in Dallas for students to do their residency at Brackenridge.
Lynda Rife, spokesperson for Keep Austin Healthy, was also part of the presentation in support of Proposition 1.
“The teaching hospital will replace Brackenridge,” Rife said. “There are reports that the surgery rooms are really small, and there are electrical closets where rain gets in. So basically, when they build the new teaching hospital, Brackenridge as we know it will close.”
This medical school in Travis County has been eagerly anticipated for a long time, according to Rife.
“I was at a Texas Exes event last week and they said they had been waiting 127 years for the state to put a medical school with a tier one university and they didn’t want to wait another 127 years,” Rife said. “So that was the best answer I heard from them.”
In other OHAN news, it was announced the October 10th candidates forum will be held at the Circle C Community Center. The County Constable candidates will speak around 6:15 p.m., followed by the County Commissioners at 7 p.m., then the District 47 State Representative Candidates at 8 p.m. Questions for candidates can be submitted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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