Longtime readers of the Watson Wire know that, for the Watsons, lacrosse is a pretty big deal. It’s fun for our kids to play. It’s fun for us parents to watch.
And, occasionally, you learn some things that may or may not have to do with lacrosse.
Several years ago, when Cooper was playing in an elementary school lacrosse program, some of the coaches (who really were just kids themselves) started talking about forming a “Dad’s League.” I don’t think any of us had ever played the game; this would be a way to learn and, presumably, have some fun.
We fathers relied on the boys’ coaches to throw something together. I couldn’t make the first (and last) scrimmage, but I later talked with one of the dads who did. Turns out the “Dad’s League” was a misnomer – it was really more of a pick-up game for former high school lacrosse studs who were home from college looking to play. They apparently created the Dad’s League to drum up some more bodies – uh, I mean, players – to put together more teams and play more games.
Anyway, this dad told me he wasn’t intimidated by the college kids, at least at first. He’d played football in college and was still relatively young.
Then came the first, and only, time he picked up the ball. It felt like, out of nowhere, a small but loud, angry group of people were all over him, whacking and poking and hitting him with sticks.
It can feel that way when you pick up the ball. So you need a team you trust and can count on.
And it helps if you’ve known them a while …
A year ago
A year ago Thursday, I delivered a speech that sort of kicked off an intense effort to revolutionize health care in Travis County, in part by building a new medical school at the University of Texas. I set out 10 Goals in 10 Yearsfor this community and created a group to work on them.
The progress we’ve made over the last 364 days is really incredible. And make no mistake, it was a team effort – no one ever could have done it alone.
I’m exceptionally proud of how far we’ve come and how much we’ve already accomplished. And I’m just as proud of the folks who’ve helped get us here.
When I think about the folks who’ve worked so hard to help us reach this point, one of the things that strikes me is how long I’ve known them and worked with them.
Part of that just reflects what a small town Austin feels like sometimes. It’s also a function of the public service we’ve all worked so hard at over the years – the people you serve with just tend to have a similar passion and wind up on the same path.
That’s actually a big part of how I ended up helping to lead this effort. Several of these passionate, accomplished, smart people pushed me to step out front. I wouldn’t have done it but for the sincerity and value of their goals, the trust that’s built up over the years, and their ability to finish what they start.
This is a big, complex, multi-faceted effort with a ton of players and moving parts. I can’t imagine putting such a deal together without being able to rely on people who know each other well enough to work through any issue, no matter how tangled. While some of the details have gotten contentious, these pros have been able to work through every challenge.
Now, there are literally dozens and dozens of people who’ve been a part of this project, and I can’t begin to name them all here. But here are some of the unheralded actors who’ve spent a ton of time over the past year to make this a reality:
- Trish Young Brown, Central Health’s President and CEO, who served previously as CEO of the City of Austin department overseeing (among other things) the Austin/Travis County Community Health Centers; she was an essential resource and leader on healthcare issues during my time as mayor.
- Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, Chancellor of the UT System, who has been unfailingly generous in sharing his expertise and perspective, both as a prestigious pediatric surgeon and academic and also as a South Texas native.
- Jesus Garza, President and CEO of the Seton Healthcare Family, whom I first met in 1991 or ’92 when I was Chair of the state environmental agency known as the Air Control Board and he was Executive Director of the Water Commission; of course, he also was Austin’s city manager when I was mayor.
- Greg Hartman, who’s now (among other things) President and CEO of the Seton Medical Center Austin and whom I first met in the mid-90s; we got to know each other well during his years in politics working for folks like my friend, the former Texas Comptroller (and current Texas A&M System Chancellor) John Sharp.
- Clarke Heidrick, a Central Health board member, Chair of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, and all-around civic leader who was instrumental in the creation of Central Health and has been a passionate, effective advocate for providing health care to the uninsured and under-insured.
- David Hilgers, a nationally recognized expert in healthcare law who’s been Central Health’s lawyer since the agency was created back in 2004; I’ve known David and his family for years, and we’ve both worked at the Brown McCarroll law firm since 2009.
- Steve Leslie, UT’s Executive Vice President and Provost, who’s been at the university for more than 30 years, has served it in just about every way you can serve an institution, and has been instrumental in creating assets like strong engineering, nursing and natural sciences programs that will give the new UT med school a huge head start from the day it opens.
- Rosie Mendoza, the Chair of the Central Health board and a vital leader in our community who, I’m honored to say, volunteered in 2006 to be my campaign treasurer and has never quit.
- Bill Powers, UT’s President, whom I’ve obviously known for years through his leadership at the University, UT law school and local law circles; he still reminds me of an article I wrote back in the late ’80′s that he used in his law school class.
- Dr. Ken Shine, the System’s Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, who’s devoted his life to improving medical education in Texas; I started talking with Dr. Shine about how to create a medical school in Austin back before I was even elected to the Senate.
And again, many others have worked just as hard. I apologize for not listing you all.
They’ve made progress
Now let’s take a second to contemplate what these folks and many others have been able to accomplish over the past year:
- We’ve identified about 90 percent of the funds a UT Austin medical school will need to operate, including $30 million a year through this decade from the UT System.
- We’ve got a tentative commitment from the Seton Healthcare Family to pour $250 million in private money into a new teaching hospital.
- We’ve seen the creation of a landmark agreement between Seton (our region’s biggest health provider) and Central Health (our county’s healthcare district) to transform the way our community’s uninsured and underinsured receive treatment – helping them avoid the emergency room and save taxpayers money.
- And we’ve figured out a way to dramatically leverage our funds, tapping what’s known as a federal 1115 Medicaid Transformation Waiver to match every dollar in local indigent healthcare spending with $1.46 from the federal government – more than doubling the resources we have to address these challenges.
The last step is for the community to vote in favor of Proposition 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot.
When we surpass that last challenge, we’ll improve health care for families and individuals across Travis County. We’ll make Austin a center for treating cancer and other serious illnesses – and provide options for people to access cutting-edge treatments without travelling to Houston, Dallas or other cities.
We’ll also build a pipeline of doctors that Austin and Central Texas can access to expand community wide health clinics, primary care, specialty medicine, and prevention and wellness programs. And we’ll seize the 15,000 new permanent jobs and $2 billion in economic prosperity that this effort is projected to create.
Facing the sticks … and moving the ball
Now, going back to my lacrosse example up top, these are the sorts of folks you want on your side when you get that golden chance to move the ball.
Unfortunately, that also means that these people have to stand with me in staring down the small but loud, angry group of people with sticks.
These sticks may take the form of people who question these folks’ work while seemingly taking almost no time to evaluate it; or of ugly personal insinuations by people who’d rather attack us personally than debate us on the merits of this transformative project.
I’m almost anticipating that there will be such attacks and innuendo over the next seven weeks. Heck, it’s an election. I’m guessing we’ll even read about them in the paper.
But at the same time, these folks have done amazing things for Austin and the rest of this region. We won’t be distracted from the good this will do. I sincerely believe and deeply hope that we’ll win this election on Nov. 6, and our people and economy will be healthier for it. I’m going to be working as hard as I can over the next 49 days to explain to the people of Travis County how important it is that they vote for Prop 1.
But no matter what happens, you, I and all of the rest of us have already made a tremendous difference. People will live longer and healthier lives, and our economy will be richer, because of this work.
Sticks or no sticks, there’s no one I’d rather have on my team helping advance this ball.