Two pieces of news provide a flicker of hope amid the doom and gloom.
The most unusual suggestion for using University Medical Center Brackenridge after it closes in 2017? Put a drunk tank there.
That was a suggestion from Austin resident Patricia Moore, one of five people who spoke Wednesday night at a Central Health public hearing on how to use UMC Brackenridge when it closes and a replacement teaching hospital opens in 2017.
"We don't need to call it a drunk tank," Moore told the Central Health board. "We can call it something more sophisticated -- like the Brackenridge Wellness Center."
Moore said afterward that she had an "aha moment" when she considered the inebriated partying that occurs during the annual South By Southwest music festival. A close-by place is needed to confine people arrested for public intoxication, she said, adding that social services also could be housed in the old hospital.
Other speakers, including Ofelia Zapata with Austin Interfaith and Cynthia Valadez with the League of United Latin American Citizens, suggested putting an array of social services on the campus.
For example, Alzheimer's patients could receive day care and children and adults with mental health problems could be treated there, Valadez said. Family caregivers could take loved ones there for short periods of respite.
"It could be a haven of hope for Austin" residents, Zapata said.
Others, including Larry Graham, chairman of the Downtown Austin Alliance, urged that Red River be straightened to improve traffic access. That also was contained in a written comment the board received and is part of the development plan for the area, which will contain the new teaching hospital and the University of Texas' Dell Medical School, opening in two years.
The 14.2-acre UMC Brackenridge campus, just south of 15th and east of Red River streets, includes the hospital with about 220 beds, a helicopter pad, a medical office building, two parking garages and the former Children's Hospital of Austin, now a clinical education center.
The new hospital will be owned, as well as operated, by the Seton Healthcare Family. Seton currently operates UMC Brackenridge on behalf of Central Health.
More public hearings will be held to solicit ideas, including a forum this fall, said John Stephens, Central Health's director of financial planning and management.
"We will be in the planning phase for a long time," Stephens told the board.
Central Health has a contract not to exceed $500,000 with a California-based consulting firm, Gensler, to help with that work.
Other Central Health board action
The Central Health board approved a plan Wednesday night to lease land it owns at 2901 Montopolis Drive in Southeast Austin at virtually no cost to create a short-term psychiatric center for people in crisis.
Austin Travis County Integral Care, the community's mental health agency, will pay a dollar a year for the lease and use an $8.9 million grant from the St. David's Foundation to build the 16-bed center and operate it for two years. After that, St. David's likely will continue to provide some funding for the center, along with help from other sources.
The facility, expected to open next summer, will provide a crucial, missing link of psychiatric care in Travis County, Central Health President and CEO Patricia Young Brown said this week. It will give law enforcement officers and deputies a new option for people having a mental health crisis besides an emergency room or psychiatric hospital.
Most people will stay less than 48 hours, but some could be at the "extended observation" center as long as two weeks, officials said.
The facility will be adjacent to Central Health'sSoutheast Health and Wellness Center, slated to open in October.
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