Huston-Tillotson University, a historically black university in Austin, and the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin announced a landmark partnership Tuesday dedicated to helping underserved residents of Austin get, and stay, healthy.
Through the partnership, the universities will work together to address mental health challenges in Austin, particularly in underserved populations. The institutions plan to hire a team that will produce combined training programs, new models of care, and research to address needs in East Austin and communities with disproportionate burdens of mental illness. A faculty member jointly appointed by both universities will manage what will be known as the Sandra Joy Anderson Community Health and Wellness Center at Huston-Tillotson, as well as the services it provides and the medical student training conducted there.
Leaders from both universities said the partnership demonstrates their institutions' commitment to improving health and increasing access to health care in East Austin and throughout underserved communities in Central Texas, while also improving integrated behavioral and general health education on both campuses.
"This project represents an unprecedented effort by each institution," said Dr. Larry L. Earvin, president and chief executive officer of Huston-Tillotson University. "It is a unique chance for Huston-Tillotson to scale our health services to meet our community's needs, and it marks a big step forward in the Dell Medical School's efforts to make a difference in the lives of all Travis County residents."
Dr. Clay Johnston, inaugural dean of the Dell Medical School, added: "To open this entirely new, clearly needed HT Community Health and Wellness Center basically in our backyard will be good for everyone. It will give our students the chance to learn, help our neighbors to get healthy and stay healthy, and allow our universities to collaborate with our community in developing new, culturally appropriate models of care."
The HT Community Health and Wellness Center also will help relieve the previously identified strain on Travis County's mental health resources by adding treatment options and services that residents and taxpayers need.
By supporting the implementation of integrated behavioral and physical health care models at Huston-Tillotson, this partnership will also help further the goals of the Dell Medical School in its partnership with Central Health, the Travis County health care district, to improve the delivery of health care to uninsured and vulnerable residents across the county. Huston-Tillotson is working with CommUnityCare, which provides health services at 25 locations across Travis County, for it to potentially provide primary care services at the HT Community Health and Wellness Center. With the focus on addressing mental health needs, Austin Travis County Integral Care is anticipated to be the behavioral health provider, as it is in other CommUnityCare locations. Through their partnership, Integral Care and CommUnityCare have been on the forefront of bringing community-based integrated physical and mental health services to vulnerable populations in our community.
"National data from various sources are pointing to the prevalence of mental illness throughout communities and a disparity in access to mental health care services for minority populations," said Dr. William Lawson, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the Howard University College of Medicine in Washington D.C., who will help plan the new program with HT and UT Austin, with a role that could expand over time. "The opportunity to bring solutions to Austin through this partnership speaks to the vision of the leaders of all the entities involved to ensure that solution-based care is provided. I am pleased to be a part of this collaboration in order to address, in many instances, hidden community behavioral and medical care needs."
The Sandra Joy Anderson Community Health and Wellness Center is named for the late daughter of HT alumna Mrs. Ada Cecilia Collins Anderson, 92, who gave Huston-Tillotson University $3 million the largest gift in the institution's history. Anderson attended Austin's two predominantly black colleges, Samuel Huston and Tillotson, before they were merged, and she received her master's degree in 1965 from UT Austin.
Ultimately, the center is envisioned to be a $35 million complex that will help address mental health disparities and increase health and wellness across the community, increase the number of African American mental health physicians in Central Texas, and serve the medical needs of HT students and faculty members.
"Projects like this demonstrate why Travis County invested in this medical school, and we thank Huston-Tillotson for its commitment to its community and its willingness to partner with UT Austin," said Dr. Gregory Vincent, vice president for diversity and community engagement at The University of Texas at Austin. "This effort will inspire many more collaborations, and the community will be better thanks to them."