Med School Complex almost Built but Controversy far from Over

The promise of expanded health care is taking shape here in Austin. Construction on the new med school and hospital complex is on pace or completion next year.

The construction of Austin's new medical complex is on schedule for completion by May of 2016. A highly anticipated due date for the Dean of the new med school Dr. Clay Johnston.

"It's not the birthing of twins, it's not the birthing of sextuplets, it's the birthing again of this whole enterprise," said Dean Johnston.

Along with the med school, the complex includes a research building and a clinical care center. The doors don't open for another year but work is already underway to start filling up the classrooms.

"We opened up the applications portal a week ago, when we first heard that we would be accredited and in that week we've already had over a thousand applications," said Johnston.

Not everyone will get in. The new 85,000 square foot med school is designed to hold 150 people and only a third will actually be those learning to become doctors. The $295 million teaching hospital - which Seton is paying for- will not open until around spring of 2017.

On the surface it may seem that all this work is being done just to accommodate 50 students, but there is a much larger, overall plan. In 2012, a property tax hike for the central health district was approved. Travis county voters were told the money would help operate a new medical school and expand clinics into more neighborhoods.

"The promise that was made to the voters on Prop 1 is coming to fruition," said State Senator Kirk Watson

As a driving force behind the tax hike then, Watson is now focused on the next step.

"It's making sure we keep the commitment of providing an integrated delivery system so that there is great benefit to the entire community," said Watson.

But Roger Falk with the Travis County Taxpayers Union, which campaigned against the property tax hike, still has doubts.

"I'm not sure where we are going to get these great increases, they sold this thing telling people you won't have to travel to get all this healthcare but they are still, who is not going to go to MD Anderson if they have cancer, let's get real," said Falk.

Falk promises to work to get a complete accounting of how tax dollars are being spent on this health care expansion project.

There are also questions about what will happen to the UMC Brackenridge campus. It's controlled by the Central Health District and could be sold off to developers, but no decision on that has been made.

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