Southwest General Hospital has a new name, Texas Vista Medical Center, and a renewed focus on addressing health disparities in South San Antonio, hospital officials said Monday.
The center launched its new Healthy Horizons program this week, which will involve engaging with the community and partners such as the San Antonio Food Bank to provide preventive health screenings and promote healthy lifestyles.
Residents on the South, near-West, and near-East sides experience higher rates of diabetes and obesity and have a much shorter life expectancy – sometimes by nearly 20 years – than those living on the North and far northwest sides of town.
“We are bringing in physicians who believe in the idea [that] this population … deserves a hospital that cares about them, and there’s a hospital that wants to take care of them before they end up sick,” said Dr. Lyssa Ochoa, a vascular surgeon who sits on the Texas Vista Medical Center’s board.
Texas Vista, located at 7400 Barlite Blvd. near South San Antonio High School, is a 327-bed acute care facility – but it also wants to drive better health outcomes in the South Side by connecting its patients to nonprofits and other care facilities that can go beyond what the doctor’s office provides. The hope is that these services will be able to prevent trips to the emergency room.
Many patients who live in the South Side “have diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and a lot of these different conditions that already make [health care] an uphill battle,” Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) said. Her district includes the hospital. “That’s why I think it’s critical that they focus on preventative care.”
Healthy Horizons will act as a kind of networking tool for the hospital, community, and area nonprofits to provide access to health-related services across the spectrum of care – from physically providing food to sharing information on how to better manage a diabetes diagnosis.
“[Those services] don’t have to be owned or controlled by Texas Vista Medical Center,” said Jon Turton, president of the medical center. “[Healthy Horizons] can be this vehicle that any [nonprofit] can attach to that creates awareness. So when we work with a clinic that wants to give out diapers for newborn moms we can connect them to the Healthy Horizons program and people can help gain access to that.”
The details and specific partnerships are largely undefined as the program is in early stages, Turton said. “It’s going to be an evolution of whatever [the community] needs it to become.”
During a Tuesday press conference, which also celebrated National Doctor’s Day, Texas Vista partnered with Southside Independent School District to give 13 grandparents coronavirus vaccines. These guardians of Southside ISD students, many of whom are over age 65, qualified for the vaccine for months but have been unable to access it.
Dallas-based Steward Health Care purchased the health care facility from IASIS Healthcare Inc. in 2017 as part of a deal that included several hospitals. Steward Health Care is the largest private, physician-owned hospital system in the United States with 38 hospitals across nine states.
“[Steward] picked up this hospital in South San Antonio [that], quite honestly, was a hospital that has really not left a lasting positive impression on people’s experiences,” said Turton, who has previously served as CEO of Baptist Medical Center. “[Steward officials] said, ‘We got to pick it up. We can’t accept mediocrity.’ … So the Steward board of directors made a decision: Let’s run this hospital and let’s help make a difference in South San Antonio.”
First, the hospital has to rebuild trust within the community, he said.
“As we try and rebrand and re-improve our quality and our patient experience on the inside of the hospital, we also have to reconnect with our community that is detached from our hospital historically,” Turton said.
The program and hospital rebranding effort began under Turton’s leadership soon after he was hired in January 2020, said Dr. Sanjay Shetty, president of Steward North America.
“[We took] advantage of the fact that we were putting in place a very strong leadership team with local knowledge,” Shetty said. “And they know this community, they know a lot of the physicians, they know the key stakeholders in the community, and they recognize that what works in Boston or what works in Salt Lake City may not work in San Antonio.”
But because of its experience in other communities, he added, Steward hospitals have a baseline of understanding of the complex tributaries such as lack of transportation or park access that lead to bad health outcomes.
“We’re used to working with communities where they might be suffering from health disparities or different socioeconomic determinants of health,” he said.
The environments in which people live affect a range of health and quality-of-life outcomes. The conditions in these environments are known as the social determinants of health, according to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
In other words, the roots of many health issues in poor, underserved neighborhoods are tied to access to health care, safe housing, education, public safety, and other elements that help people live healthier lives.
In San Antonio, what neighborhood you live in plays a large role in how long you live and how healthy you will be.
“The reason this is happening, despite the fact that we have more doctors doing more procedures, is the fact that we have not acknowledged social determinants of health,” said Ochoa, who founded the San Antonio Vascular and Endovascular Clinic.
Ochoa started to understand the scope of the problem when she started doing research. The maps that showed high rates of diabetic amputations, economic hardships, and lack of internet connection overlapped with the same areas that have been underserved and discriminated against through racist real estate practices, also known as redlining, for decades.
“It’s the exact same map,” she said. “All these decades later, stuff has not changed. So as we talk about social determinants of health, it’s a vast number of issues.”
In addition to Texas Vista’s new program, the South Side will receive another health care boost as Mission Trail Baptist Hospital, part of the Baptist Health System, expands and enhances its services for women. The hospital will add labor and delivery services as part of a $10 million investment. It will be the first maternity unit in the Southeast Side.
The Healthy Horizons program will be free for anyone who signs up. More information will be available online and at the medical center in the coming weeks, officials said.
The program has the potential to connect South Side patients to services that may literally save lives, Ochoa said.
“If we can figure out how to facilitate that connection, I think that we can really move mountains. … I’m doing everything I can to make sure this hospital is successful, this hospital recruits some of the best doctors, and we have quality that rivals that in the [South Texas] Medical Center.”