The City Council today (Thursday) could give Seton Healthcare Network the final nod to move forward on plans to build a $175 million replacement facility for Children's Hospital at the former Mueller airport.
Last week, Seton officials and supporters rallied support for the project, with little citizen opposition voiced before the council's first round of approval. The vote was unanimous; only Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman expressed resistance to the city losing control of the hospital that Seton has managed since 1995, when the city entered into a lease agreement for Children's and Brackenridge hospitals. Children's, the moneymaker of the two, has outgrown its building, and Seton's solution is to build a new facility that it would own and operate while continuing to lease and manage Brackenridge.
Dr. Pat Crocker, Brack's chief of staff, offered a silver-lining scenario in which Brackenridge would benefit by Children's departure from its existing space. The extra bed space would enable Brack to expand some of its more profitable areas, such as the Brain and Spine Center.
At the very least, Goodman had hoped the city could retain ownership of the Mueller property instead of selling it to Seton. "In this case," she said, "there was a way for a partnership to happen, but it is not happening because Seton, Ascension [Seton's owner] -- whoever is in charge of this particular thing -- does not want that to happen."
In light of Goodman's concerns, the council decided to direct city staff to negotiate several amendments to the lease but to delay execution of the new contract until this week. Still, most of the critical dealmaking has already taken place, leaving little else to negotiate. The proposed lease amendments and term sheet, a fiscal analysis of Seton's new proposal, and other documents from the various presentations to the council can be found online at www.ci.austin.tx.us/news/2003/seton.htm
Those who spoke last week in opposition to Seton's takeover of Children's included Gray Panthers leader Charlotte Flynn and Travis Co. Probate Judge Guy Herman. "The issue in my mind is not a question of whether or not to build a new Children's Hospital," Herman said. "It's a question of who should build it."
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