Why is Ascension misleading Travis County residents about Central Health?
Ascension is failing to meet its contractual obligations to provide healthcare for uninsured Travis County residents with low income, and Central Health — Travis County’s hospital district — is seeking healthcare justice for the people we serve.
After years of trying unsuccessfully to resolve these issues outside of court, Central Health had no choice but to file a lawsuit. In this litigation, Central Health alleges that Ascension has for years provided inadequate healthcare services for Travis County residents with low income. Ascension is in violation of its contractual agreements with Central Health — and it is those agreements that allow Ascension to operate the county’s safety-net hospital, Dell Seton Medical Center.
Promises Made – and Broken
For decades, our neighbors, friends, and family members with low income in Travis County have depended on Central Health and Ascension for healthcare. Ascension has received hundreds of millions of public dollars as a result of operating the safety-net hospital. Ascension and Central Health’s agreements specify that Ascension can lose this right if it commits a serious violation of its contractual obligations to Central Health.
Ascension’s own data shows that it has broken the promises it made to serve Travis County residents with low income. For example, Ascension has reduced, capped, and eliminated healthcare services for patients in Central Health’s Medical Access Program (MAP), which enrolls Travis County residents with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level (about $60,000 for a family of four).
Between 2013 and 2022, even as Travis County has grown, the number of MAP and charity care (as Ascension defines it) patients cared for by Ascension declined by more than 20%, and the number of patient encounters declined by one-third.
As a last resort, Central Health is prepared to purchase Dell Seton Medical Center.
Purchase – Not “Take It Over”
If the Court agrees with Central Health that Ascension has committed a serious violation of the agreements, then Central Health can terminate those agreements with Ascension and exercise an option to purchase the county’s safety-net hospital. This would enable Central Health to operate that hospital going forward, just as other urban hospital districts do in Texas. If Ascension won’t serve our community, Central Health can and will.
Ascension is misleading our community by calling this a hospital takeover. First, the parties agreed in 2013 that Central Health would have this option to purchase the hospital as part of its contractual relationship with Ascension. Second, if Central Health exercises this right, it would purchase the hospital at fair market value. Ascension has known for a decade that, if it chose not to fulfill its obligations, it could lose its ability to operate the safety-net hospital. The purchase option gives Central Health a way to ensure that the people we serve will receive needed care at our safety-net hospital.
Buying the safety-net hospital is Central Health’s last resort. As a public agency, we have a mandate to make sure Travis County residents with low income can get the level and quality of care they need and deserve from their safety-net hospital system, and that Travis County taxpayers can trust our financial stewardship.