AUSTIN (KXAN) – On Wednesday, members of NAACP-Austin and Texas LULAC District VII held a press conference calling Travis County Commissioners to order an independent, third party, performance audit of Central Health.
Central Health is the public hospital district serving the residents of Travis County. According to its website, Central Health’s core objective is to “provide vulnerable Travis County residents experiencing low-incomes and are uninsured with access to quality health care coverage and services.”
NAACP and LULAC laid out their eight areas of concern in what they call a “Red Flags Report”. The groups want a performance audit of each of the concerns that are listed here. Nelson Linder, president of NAACP-Austin, says this stems from complaints about inequities within healthcare on the east side of Austin.
“People are dying these are not just casual conversations, they have compromised immune systems and we [are dealing with] COVID-19. These are serious consequences. It’s time to call for accountability, transparency and see where the money is so we can solve this problem,” Linder explained.
The groups want more documentation on Central Health’s programming with its partners.
Susan Spataro, former Travis County Auditor, was at Wednesday’s press conference. She is asking to know if care provided to low-income communities is “accessible and high quality.”
Attorney Fred Lewis is representing three plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit against Central Health in 2017. He says part of that lawsuit is seeking information on certain expenditures to Dell Medical School.
“Litigation takes time. It is going on appeal. We think the public has a right to know today exactly how the money is being spent,” Lewis said.
KXAN reached out to Central Health and a spokesperson said the organization was aware of the press conference and said their attorneys advised them that it would be inappropriate to comment on the allegations linked to ongoing litigation.
But as for Central Health’s budget and the performance review, the spokesperson said in fiscal year 2022, more than 97% of the $506 million budget, is dedicated to healthcare delivery for low-income residents.
Central Health says it served more than 147,000 people in FY 2021, which the organization says is a 6% year-over-year increase.
Central Health sent us its healthcare delivery spending by year:
FY2018 – $227,029,205
FY2019 – $247,343,600
FY2020 – $278,017,579
FY2021 – $353,858,895
FY2022 – $491,485,796
The organization says a third-party firm conducts a yearly audit of its finances and received a clean audit opinion in FY 2021, as it says it has for years. At the request of Travis County Commissioners, Central Health says it undergoes an independent, third-party, five-year performance review to provide recommendations and to evaluate the effectiveness of the organization. The last review was in 2017 and the next one is in 2023.
In February, the organization says it established a Healthcare Equity Plan to tackle generational inequities and systemic racism in healthcare. This weekend and next weekend, Central Health is breaking ground on two health and wellness centers in eastern Travis County which they say will open 2023.
KXAN did reach out Travis County officials to see if commissioners would change protocols based on LULAC and the NAACP’s concerns. We will update this story when we hear back.