Dell Seton is Austin’s newest Catholic hospital

Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas in Austin opened its doors in May. The Catholic hospital is owned and operated by Seton Healthcare Family. (Photo courtesy Seton)

By Carla L. Smith

Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas, a state-of-the-art facility, is Austin’s newest hospital and replaces University Medical Center Brackenridge, which served the region for more than 133 years.
Dell Seton is owned and operated by the Seton Healthcare Family, which is part of Ascension, the largest non-profit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system. Although it replaced the publicly owned Brackenridge, years of planning ensured a seamless transition of both people and services.
“First and foremost we worked years in advance to make certain everyone involved clearly understood the process,” said David Shackelford, Lead Capitalization Project Manager. “As the move got closer, we even used complex but fun ‘day in the life’ scenarios to make sure nothing was overlooked.”
Being a Catholic entity also meant doctrine needed to be addressed right along with doctors.
“We were very thoughtful in making sure we follow all the Ethical and Religious Directives and social responsibility of Catholic health care services,” Dell Seton President Christann Vasquez said. “Our beautiful new chapel can now offer a full Mass, we have a robust chaplain program, and we involve and engage families at all levels of care.”
All of this is done through a distinctive partnership between Seton, the University of Texas, and Central Health, which is Travis County’s health care district. The hospital is on land owned by UT that is leased to Central Health, who then subleases it to Seton. Dell Seton is a training ground for students and residents at UT’s Dell Medical School. The university helps with hospital staffing, and the hospital underwrites some of UT’s residents in training, making it what many believe is the only public medical school whose primary teaching hospital is Catholic. 
It’s new, it’s different, and so far it’s working, Vasquez said.
“Often times in health care we try to do things alone,” she said. “With the three entities involved in this new facility, we are offering a very unique community care collaboration that will transform the delivery of care in Central Texas.”
Funding for the facility was also a group effort. Seton invested $260 million for design and construction and also led a $50 million fundraising campaign. In addition, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation contributed $25 million. No tax dollars were used to fund any of the $310 million project, something of which, Vasquez said, the team is very proud and thankful.
Moving an entire hospital is no easy task, but years of planning and communication resulted in a monumental yet smooth transition that involved staff, patients and medical equipment. Logistical challenges were addressed with rehearsals months in advance, education and training teams, and a “think ahead” mentality. 
“The move consisted of a highly coordinated series of events that included orientation exercises for associates, transporting all patients in ambulances and using a 1:1 nurse/patient ratio, and working with the City of Austin on street closures,” Shackelford said.
Dell Seton houses 211 beds but can expand to house up to 350 beds and in true Austin fashion, technology is at its finest.
Some technology, such as “Vital Link,” which allows a patient’s vital signs to be transmitted directly to medical records without the need of transcribing, was implemented at Brackenridge as a way of training staff before the move. 
Dell Seton is also the only Level 1 trauma center in Central Texas, a designation very few hospitals achieve. The trauma rooms are significantly bigger and better, it has a mass casualty design element, and an underground area is available should disaster require one.
In addition, patient rooms were created using a “lean design” method, meaning everything in them is standardized and in the same place.   
“The most common feedback we’ve gotten is that everyone loves the new space. Not only because it’s shiny and new, but because it was designed with a level of efficiency that allows caregivers to spend less time figuring things out and more time with patients,” Shackelford said.
Although extremely proud of their new structure, hospital officials also dedicate time to keeping people healthy and out of hospitals. Preventative care is evident in their Complex Care Clinics that provide physicians, nutritional information and social work care, as well as ways to increase the quality of life and longevity of those receiving care.
Another way Dell Seton is addressing community needs, specifically those in the Catholic community, is by working with the Diocese of Austin. Hospital leaders have met with the superintendent of Catholic Schools to discuss keeping students healthy, assisting with the training of school nurses and other health related issues.
“This is yet another important component of our reach of care,” Vasquez said. “We all want kids to stay in school and to be healthy, so our goal is to work together on wellness and healthy living early on.”
The area’s low-income and uninsured patients also have a home at Dell Seton, as Central Health sees that their hospital needs are met, something Catholic doctrine encourages and supports. 
The new hospital’s goal of a smooth transition is complete. Now its goal of a healthy community and quality patient care is its mission. 
“We are people-centered,” Shackelford said. “People are guests while they’re here, and we want to make sure they are comfortable during their stay and healthy when they leave.”