Find out what you need to know about health in the greater Austin area — and what Dell Med and its partners are doing to tackle cancer, heart disease and other critical health challenges head on.
Of the more than 1.2 million people living in Travis County, 58 percent are overweight or obese. Fourteen percent smoke. Eight percent have diabetes.
On the other hand, fewer high-schoolers are using tobacco, and vaccines have reduced the number of people sick with hepatitis and mumps. Lung cancer mortality rates are declining.
Cancer and Heart Disease Cause 40 Percent of Deaths
Cancer is the leading cause of death in Travis County, killing 1,131 people in 2014 (the most recent year for which data is available). Together with heart disease, it is the cause of 40 percent of all deaths in the county.
Dell Medical School, alongside Seton Healthcare Family, Central Health and a range of other partners including Austin Public Health, is working to position primary care physicians to lead the fight against these and other debilitating illnesses. The departments of Internal Medicine and Population Health are developing a model for primary care that shifts the focus from treating sickness to helping patients stay healthy — from doctors’ offices to the community. By delivering robust preventive care; increasing access to vaccines and screenings; and caring about the social, economic and environmental causes of health problems, Dell Med aims to reduce the onset of chronic illnesses, helping people to get and stay healthy.
Simultaneously, the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes of the Dell Medical School, established by a $50 million pledge from the LIVESTRONG Foundation, are leveraging vast intellectual resources across The University of Texas at Austin to reinvent the full continuum of cancer care. The team includes experts in prevention, supportive care, survivorship and psychosocial sciences who are working to improve and save patient lives.
Too Many Mothers Don’t Get Prenatal Care
In 2012-14, 27 percent of mothers received late or no prenatal care — a significant risk factor for infant mortality. More than a third of all Hispanic babies were born to mothers with late or no care.
Dell Med’s Department of Women’s Health recently launched a new, redesigned system of perinatal care open to any Central Texas woman who needs it, regardless of her ability to pay. A collaboration of a number of community partners, the effort provides more coordinated care, helping to improve outcomes for both mothers and babies.
An Average of 125 People Die by Suicide Each Year
Depression, anxiety, addiction and many other psychiatric conditions can be fatal if left untreated. Demand for affordable and effective care far exceeds available resources in Travis County, and many patients go undiagnosed and untreated until their conditions worsen.
By integrating mental health care into primary care and other care pathways, the Department of Psychiatry seeks to help those suffering far before they reach crisis. But that’s just one aspect of the department’s plans for a large-scale redesign of the region’s outdated and inefficient public mental health care system.
Chair Steven Strakowski is helping lead a team of lawmakers, experts and health care leaders working to develop a comprehensive strategy to replace the 150-year-old Austin State Hospital with a modern campus that can serve as a national model for providing cost-effective, multidisciplinary mental health care — what State Sen. Kirk Watson has labeled an “MD Anderson of the brain.”
Many Diseases Disproportionally Strike People of Lower Socioeconomic Status
As Austin continues to grow, so does the economic divide between rich and poor. Many historically underserved residents lack access to quality health care and education and are at higher risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV and other illnesses. In fact, 13.4 percent of black adults in Travis County suffer from diabetes, compared to just 5.4 percent of Caucasians.
The Department of Population Health is leading Dell Med’s efforts to improve the overall health and well-being of Travis County residents. In collaboration with community partners, faculty are identifying and developing solutions that will expand health services to low-income residents, improve education and dialogue about health, and help make communities healthier overall.
Another initiative, undertaken with Austin Public Health, works to canvass neighborhoods, conducting household-level assessments to identify the most pressing health concerns communities are facing.
Simultaneously, a number of other groups across Dell Med are working in tandem with the department to improve access to health care:
- The Health Disparities team, working alongside Huston-Tillotson University, has forged partnerships to identify and resolve inequities in the community. One outcome is the Sandra Joy Anderson Community Health and Wellness Center, which offers health care services in a primary care setting to residents in East Austin and across Travis County.
- The Design Institute for Health is working with an underserved community in Austin and a real estate developer to plan thinkEAST, a new neighborhood where broad health interventions become an embedded and mostly unnoticeable component of daily life.
- A pilot project led by the Department of Surgery and Perioperative Care has increased access to specialty care among low-income and uninsured Travis County patients, trimmed a waiting list of referrals for musculoskeletal care, and initiated a new approach, designed around patients, to diagnosing and treating bone, joint and muscle-related pain and illness.