- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The University of Texas will open an Austin medical school in July nearly 135 years after the university was founded in the city without one, the Austin American-Statesman (https://atxne.ws/28SDaWX ) reported Saturday.

When the university system was established in 1881, Texas voters decided the main university would be in Austin and the medical school in Galveston, then the largest Texas city, where it remains.

The medical school’s backers say that it will improve health care for Austin’s low-income residents and spur economic development.

An economic downturn in 2009 scuttled previous plans for the medical school, but state Sen. Kirk Watson, a Democrat from Austin, took up the cause in 2011, brokering an agreement involving UT, Central Health and the Seton Healthcare Family.

Central Health is a taxing authority and Travis County’s hospital district, responsible for caring for uninsured and underinsured residents, and Seton, a Catholic nonprofit, is the area’s largest health care system. UT’s governing board is underwriting the school’s construction with endowment-backed bonds.

The project solidified in 2012 when Travis County voters approved raising Austin’s hospital district property taxes by $35 million a year to support the medical school.

The new $310 million medical school hospital will be called Dell Seton Medical Center and will ultimately be owned and operated by Seton, part of Ascension, the world’s largest Catholic health system.

Planners hope the school will help marry Austin’s high-tech industries with health care to produce new devices, apps and consumer products.

UT, Seton and Central Health have formed a nonprofit, Capital City Innovation Inc., whose mission is to attract and incubate start-up companies and researchers. Central Health’s 14.3-acre property just south of the medical school is expected to be redeveloped into a commercial, residential and innovation hub after the aging University Medical Center Brackenridge is razed.

Some have questioned the school’s funding model.

“The problem with the new medical school is that its funding from Central Health consists of tens of millions of dollars annually that by law is intended exclusively for the provision of health care services for the poor in Travis County,” said Bob Ozer, an activist and retired lawyer in Austin. “That money will instead be used for faculty and staff salaries devoted to research for global markets, instruction for medical students at an elite institution and for costs associated with a private teaching hospital Seton will own and profit from.”

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, https://www.statesman.com

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