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Advocating for the Future

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Sen. Kirk Watson shares his views on the future of UT’s medical school – a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Austin and Travis County.

By: Jody Joseph Marmel

Photography by Michael Giordano

This past November, Election Day was packed with anticipation and excitement; the focus was on who was going to be our next president. Voters in Travis County had a few other propositions to vote for or against, and Proposition 1 was an extremely important proposition for the medical and health community of Austin.

For a multitude of reasons, the passing of Proposition 1 was seen as a huge success by many Austinites, businesses, health centers and hospitals, the University of Texas at Austin and a leading advocate, Sen. Kirk Watson.

Having the privilege of speaking with Watson about the future of the University of Texas at Austin’s medical school enlightened my pro-Proposition 1 stance by his sharing the inner workings of how this “once in a generation” opportunity for Travis County is an integral component of Austin’s cutting-edge future.

“We have a Tier 1 Research University (UT), and there is no medical school. This just does not make sense. I kept asking myself, ‘Why does it not have a medical school?’” Not being able to arrive at an acceptable answer ignited Watson to be on the forefront of Proposition 1, resulting in a promising schedule for the University of Texas medical school to open sometime in 2015.

Now that Proposition 1 has passed with 55 percent of voters in favor, breaking ground is projected as soon as 2013. Watson says without any doubts whatsoever, “The medical school is great for the health and medical community, but it is just as great for the business sector. This is going to be a tremendous boom for Travis County’s economy.”

According to an independent study, 15,000 permanent jobs will be created. This figure does not include any architectural or construction jobs that will be needed until the site is completed. “We are looking at the permanent jobs that will enhance the economy in the long run. This factor alone is a remarkable number in jobs created and will bring even more recognition to our wonderful metropolitan city.”

The “boom” Watson refers to extends to all spectrums of our economy. He further explains, “Over 60 percent of jobs created will not require a bachelor’s degree. While there will be a surge of physicians, Ph.D.s and other health-related jobs, there will also be an increased need for surgical technicians, radiology technicians, medical assistants and other technician-related jobs.

“Austin has been recognized as a major city, and now with the future medical school, a great deal of credibility has just been added to our list of accomplishments that will further add help, research and assistance to the future of medical knowledge.”

Watson emphasizes his “10 Goals in 10 Years” plan that was introduced this year. The following are the 10 goals the senator would like to reach within a 10-year time frame:

1. Build a medical school

2. Build a modern teaching hospital

3. Establish modern, uniquely Austin health clinics in our neighborhoods

4. Develop laboratories and other facilities for public and private research

5. Launch a new commercialization incubator

6. Make Austin a center for comprehensive cancer care

7. Provide needed psychiatric care and facilities

8 Improve basic infrastructure and create a sense of place

9. Bolster the medical examiner’s office

10. Solve the funding puzzle

With Central Health Proposition 1 passed, these goals are already in the works. “There is still a great deal of planning to do. It is going to be a community effort to get this job done and get it done the right way.”

Teamwork has been implemented from the beginning. A project of this magnitude requires each of us to work together toward a common goal – in this case, make those 10 goals. Watson further explains why he pushed Proposition 1 from the start.

“On a general note, we need to provide a health care safety net for the region’s underserved populations. One out of five people are uninsured. These people need the resources and the help to get medical care. In order to prevent frequent emergency room visits that many of these people use as primary care medical facilities rather than a true emergency trauma center, the future UT medical school and affiliated teaching hospital are a tremendous part of the solution to this problem.”

On a personal note, Watson cares deeply about health care for everyone. “I wake up every day, and I am thankful that I am alive. I enjoy my life and enjoy being in the Texas Senate. Being a cancer survivor changes your outlook on life. I was lucky; the physicians caught the cancer in the early stages and were able to prevent it from destroying me. I want others to have access to this type of health care. Everyone deserves to have this opportunity.”

There are strong mandates for moving forward. Talking about a “new playbook” to guide the city through the process, progress and growth of the UT medical school and teaching hospital, Watson adds, “I am not relying on an ‘old playbook.’ We are changing that and going forward with what I call a ‘new playbook.’ This progressive movement needs a new set of guidelines to follow, and we will all work together to make sure of the success of this enormous venture.”

Watson stresses two main points: “What do we have versus what do we need to finish the job is a big part of the new playbook.” And with all of the institutions and people involved, “we will uncover any missing pieces of the puzzle and make it work.”

Collaborations between the University of Texas at Austin, Seton Healthcare, the Central Health district and the citizens of Travis County (the passing of Proposition 1 by the voters allows for a five-cent property tax increase to help finance this project) indicate a community that has come together to improve personal and economic health throughout Central Texas.

With Watson’s dogged determination, this vision has transformed into a reality today and for the future of Austin. The benefits reaped will reach way beyond our city. There is a very strong probability that they will extend throughout the entire state. With the knowledge that is fostered and attained from a 21st-century teaching hospital and medical school, “Our growth in knowledge can be viewed as worldwide.”

“I am proud of Travis County. I wanted Proposition 1 to be a part of the November election so more people would have the opportunity to vote and be a part of Travis County’s future. It’s great that the people expressed their views, and it shows that Austin and Travis County want to invest in a better tomorrow. What the voters did was a tremendous gift for Travis County. They wanted this, and now we can move forward with an emphasis on the quality of life.”

To learn more about Sen. Kirk Watson, visit the Capitol Office, located at Capitol Extension Room E1.810, Austin, Texas 78711. Call 512-463-0114 or visit www.kirkwatson.com.

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