UT School of Nursing helps establish a new clinic in Southeast Travis County

Lucy Cai

The UT School of Nursing is collaborating with the Travis County Fire Rescue and Central Health to bring the first primary care clinic to Southeast Travis County.

Primary care includes pediatrics, family medicine and internal medicine. According to Stephanie Morgan, director of practice innovation and professor at the UT School of Nursing, Southeast Travis County’s strong need for primary care is the driving force behind the decision to open the clinic by the end of the summer.

The new clinic will offer pediatric, women’s health and chronic disease management services, as well as typical preventative services such as annual exams and physicals. Morgan said that her team is also considering incorporating other types of care, including pharmacy, dental and behavioral health services.

“There is not a full-time family practice anywhere in the area,” Morgan said. “Due to the lack of public transportation, there are technically a lot of folks without any kind of healthcare. It’s a big issue.”

Ken Bailey, the chief of Travis County Fire Rescue, said he sees the new clinic as an opportunity to improve the allocation of emergency care resources.

“Currently, we go to every 911 call, whether it’s someone with cardiac arrest or a stubbed toe,” Bailey said. “In this case, we’re hoping to divert some of those incidents into the clinic. At the end of the day, we want to make sure we’re using the right resource for the right incident.”

The clinic will be located in redesigned and added portions of an existing fire station in Southeast Travis County. Under this model of care, the nursing staff and fire rescue staff will work closely together.

According to Morgan, this is the first time that this model of care has been implemented in Texas, but a California clinic has successfully developed a similar model.

“They have a full-time practitioner and they’re adding a second one, and they’ve extended hours,” Morgan said. “It’s a successful model.”

However, there is a key difference between the two models of care. The California clinic is separated from the fire department by a parking lot. The Austin model will place the two entities in the same building, offering the nursing and fire rescue staff opportunities to interact and learn from each other as well as coordinate their services.

“Let’s say you’re 65 years old and (you lack transportation). Well, now you need to get your blood drawn so you can get lab work done, and then once lab work is done, they’re going to want to see you again,” Bailey said. “So that’s two trips to the clinic. What if we send the fire department, who you know and trust, to your house beforehand and we draw your blood? So that way, when you show up to one of your visits (at the clinic), your stuff’s already there.”

Most of the population, however, is under- or uninsured. Even among those who have insurance, Medicare and Medicaid are the most common forms of insurance. These two insurance plans are notorious for providing low reimbursements to providers, which, according to Morgan, make finances the biggest challenge to maintaining the clinic over the long term.

Morgan and her team are looking into making the clinic federally qualified, allowing for subsidies from the federal government and higher reimbursements per patient.

The response from Southeast Travis County residents concerning the clinic has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I have not heard a negative comment except for, ‘It can’t happen sooner,’” Bailey said.