New spending list adds $88,000 to the total having no connection to indigent healthcare
Part 7 in a Series
It turns out that Central Health, the agency whose sole mission is to provide indigent health care services in Travis County, vastly understated in its original response to a public information request the amount it has handed out to local organizations for luncheons, galas and other events.
The Austin Bulldog reported March 31, 2018, that more than $111,000 in property taxes collected by the agency had been spent in fewer than four years, much it for lavish galas at high-end hotels that included fine food, entertainment and awards presentations, events that have nothing to do with providing indigent healthcare services.
Since then Central Health provided a list of additional expenditures that totaled more than $88,000, bringing the grand total to more than $200,000. (The revised March 31 spreadsheet, with additional expenditures entered in red, is linked at the bottom of this article. It lists each donation, the organization that received it, the date, and a description of the event.) The cost of several other events that research shows Central Health funded have still not been provided by the agency.
The Austin Bulldog’s compilation of the total amount that Central Health gave to each of the 42 organizations from January 2013 to January 2018 is shown in the accompanying chart. (Central Health Funding Recipients.)
Spending squelched by lawsuit, new policy
Mike Geeslin, president and CEO of Central Health, declined to address these expenditures for the March 31 story, so he was not contacted to comment for this update.
The number of events sponsored and the individual amounts given by Central Health have been reduced since Geeslin took the helm May 15, 2017—mainly due to a new policy ordered by the Travis County Attorney’s Office.
The new policy limits such expenditures to a maximum of $500, specifies the types of education and outreach events that might justify funding, and requires Geeslin’s pre-approval.
The new policy was implemented soon after Central Health was sued October 18, 2017, over alleged misuse of funds. (Birch et al v. Travis County Healthcare District, dba Central Health, Cause No. D-1-GN-17-005824.) That lawsuit is currently in the discovery phase.
Complete details about the legal restrictions on use of Central Health funds were included in the March 31 story.
Showboating after big tax increase
On November 6, 2012, 54.67 percent of voters approved a big leap in the property tax rate that Central Health could levy, raising it from 7.89 cents per $100 property valuation to 12.9 cents. Suddenly the agency was awash in cash and Central Health strutted its newfound wealth by blowing $30,000 in 2013 to be the “presenting” (or major) sponsor of the Austin Business Journal’s Healthiest Employers Awards presentations.
This annual event recognizes employers that provide programs for the health of employees. By definition, then, these employers, however enlightened and commendable, are not providing indigent healthcare services.
Adding $10,000 sponsorships in 2014 and 2015 for the same event, plus additional expenditures with the publication for women’s events in 2015 and 2016, plus its Commercial Real Estates Awards in 2015, brought Central Health’s spending to more than $52,000, making the Austin Business Journal the chief beneficiary of Central Health’s largesse unrelated to indigent healthcare services.
Central Health boosts Chambers of Commerce
Four Chambers of Commerce were direct beneficiaries of Central Health’s generosity, raking in $30,610 in all.
The Austin Chamber of Commerce received $13,000 for its annual luncheons. Clarke Heidrick—a board member of both Central Health board and the Chamber—in 2013 was named Austinite of the Year, the year in which Central Health’s sponsorship was $5,500. In each of the three other years that Central Health sponsored the event the agency spent $2,500.
Heidrick chaired Central Health’s board of managers from its first meeting in August 2004 until May 2007 and remained on the board until his fourth term expired in December 2017. He served as chairman-elect of the Chamber in 2011 and as its chair in 2012.
The Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce netted $10,600 for its annual Celebrando Austin events. Rosie Mendoza—a board member of both Central Health and the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce—was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at this event in 2016, a year in which Central Health spent $3,000 to sponsor the event.
Mendoza served on Central Health’s board of managers from July 2004 through December 2016. She chaired the board from August 2004 through May 2007, according to information supplied by the agency. She has been a board member of the Hispanic Chamber since 2004, and served as its chair-elect in 2005, according to the resume on her company’s website.
The Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce received $6,000 for its Small Business Awards Galas in 2015 and 2016.
The Greater Austin Asian American Chamber of Commerce, which offers programs to promote economic growth for small businesses in Central Texas, got $1,010 for an event in 2014.
Organizations funded in five figures
While the American Heart Association-Austin is very much an advocate for health, the $15,000 it received from Central Health was to sponsor tables at $5,000 each for the black-tie Heart Balls held at the JW Marriott in in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
The National Forum for Black Public Administrators Central Texas Chapter netted a total of $12,520 for its annual dinner and leadership summits.
The Sustainable Food Center got $10,000 for Central Health’s sponsorship of the organization’s Farm to Plate event held at the Barr Mansion in 2016, where tickets were priced at $300 each.
Organizations that got funding in four figures or less
Central Health spent $7,000 with Austin MD Magazine to be a Headline Sponsor of a community health and wellness fair presented by Central Health and its nonprofit enterprise partners, Sendero Health Plans and CommUnity Care.
The Austin Area Urban League scored $6,000 for various events including Equal Opportunity Galas and golf tournament sponsorships.
Central Health gave Leadership Austin $6,000 to sponsor the Class of 2014.
The Seton Fund got $6,000 for Central Health’s partnership in the Elizabeth Ann Seton Board Gala held in April 2013 with live music by Jerry Jeff Walker and food from Lambert’s Downtown Barbecue.
Huston-Tillotson University received $5,280, of which $5,000 was for sponsorship of black-tie MASKED Galas, scholarship fundraisers in 2015 and 2016.
Integral Care Central Texas got $5,250, of which $5,000 was to sponsor the African American Family Support Conference in February 2017 to connect attendees with services that support health and well-being.
The African American Youth Harvest Foundation received $5,220, for Changing the Story events, a program that combats crime, delinquency and anti-social behavior among youths.
Central Health pitched in $5,000 to sponsor the inaugural Healthier Texas Summit co-hosted by the University of Texas System and It’s Time Texas. The event was held in November 2017 at the Hilton Hotel with a focus on reducing preventable chronic disease in Texas.
AVANCE Austin, whose mission is to strengthen families in at-risk communities through parent education and support, received $3,950, of which $3,500 was to sponsor luncheons in 2014 and 2017. Central Health has not yet provided information about how much it gave to the organization to sponsor luncheons in 2015 and 2016.
Central Health board member Rosie Mendoza was also an AVANCE board member.
Caritas of Austin landed a $3,500 Central Health partnership in 2016. Caritas is a longtime recipient of funds raised in the annual Thundercloud Subs Annual Turkey Trot, a five-mile benefit run.
The Texas Conference for Women got $3,425 for its events held at the Austin Convention Center in November of 2013, 2014, and 2015. This organization “provides connection, motivation, networking, inspiration and skill building for thousands of women each year,” according to its website.
The Congress for the New Urbanism is a national organization founded in 1993, a “movement united around the belief that our physical environment has a direct impact on our chances for happy, prosperous lives.” The Central Texas Chapter received $1,000 in 2014 and $1,000 in 2015 for table sponsorships for its annual luncheons.
Front Steps, whose vision statement says, “No person in our community should ever have to spend a night on the streets,” received $1,000 in 2015 and $1,000 in 2017. Via email The Austin Bulldog requested information about the location and date of the 2017 luncheon, Executive Director Greg McCormack, responded: “Sure you will understand we don’t disclose information about any sponsorships or donations to our organization.” When reminded via email that the $1,000 received was a matter of public record, he did not respond.
Central Health gave the Texas Diversity Council $1,855 to sponsor various events in 2013, 2015, and 2016. The organization’s website states that its mission is to foster “a learning environment for organizations to grow their knowledge of diversity.”
The Austin Area Research Organization, a group “powered by roundtable discussions among its 100-plus thought leaders and by solid, thoughtful research into the thorniest of issues,” got $1,794. Of that $1,000 was for its 35th Anniversary Celebration in 2015. The organization got the remaining $794 for a breakfast in 2016.
Central Health donated $1,500 to the Austin Community Foundation for 2013 Fera Para Aprenda event, a Spanish language learning fair to connect programs and resources that support children’s academic success produced by the Austin Independent School District.
The First Tee of Austin, which conducts programs to introduce golf to young people, got $1,500 from Central Health for an awards luncheon in 2014.
Central Health gave $1,500 to the Urban Health Expo held for the first time at Huston-Tillotson University in January 2017.
Central Texas African American Family Support Conference netted a $1,250 sponsorship in 2016 for the event held at the Renaissance Hotel Austin, offering four health-related tracks.
Central Health kicked in $1,000 each for: Dia De La Mujere in 2015, Dove Springs Advisory Board in 2017, Eastside Memorial High School in 2017, Housing Works in 2016, NAACP Austin in 2017, and RunTex Foundation in 2013.
Another nine organizations received amounts from $200 to $750. Those are listed along with all other funding in the spreadsheet sorted by recipient, linked below.
Good news is spendthrift days are gone
Regardless of how the lawsuit against Central Health turns out and how it affects the agency’s ability to continue giving $35 million a year to the University of Texas Dell Medical Center, the litigation triggered a review of spending on sponsorships that going forward will be kept in bounds by the new policy.
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Chronological: Central Health Expenditures January 2013 to January 2018, an Excel spreadsheet
Recipients: Central Health Expenditures January 2013 to January 2018, an Excel spreadsheet
Related Bulldog coverage:
Dining and Shining on Taxpayer Dollars: Central Health spent more than $111,000 for sponsorships that have nothing to do with providing indigent healthcare, Part 6 in a Series, March 30, 2018
Central Health’s Checkup Delivered: Consultants delivered performance review completed eight months after contract let, Part 5 in a Series, February 14, 2018
Lawsuit Challenges Central Health Spending: Plaintiffs argue it is not legal to give $35 million a year to the UT Austin Dell Medical Center, Part 4 in a Series, October 18, 2017
Critic: Proposed Financial Policies “’Pointless’: Commissioners Court will vote tomorrow on Central Health financial policies for FY 18, Part 3 in a Series, October 9, 2017
Central Health Financial Policies Hotly Debated: $185 million given to Dell Medical School and Seton, with little to show for indigent healthcare, and $55 million more is on the way for FY 2018, Part 2 in a Series, September 29, 2017
Central Health Feedback Meetings Ill-Attended: Two public forums to gather opinions about the agency drew just nine speakers, Part 1 in a Series, August 27, 2017
Ken Martin has been covering local government and politics in the Austin area since 1981. See more on Ken on the About page. Email[email protected].
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