As healthcare continues to evolve and transform, there is tremendous value in strong, collaborative relationships between health systems and the communities we are privileged to serve. Austin has called on its community to offer solutions that will help people struggling with homelessness or human trafficking. I am proud to say that Seton, a part of Ascension, is answering that call.

Texas is the second-most trafficked state in the country, with more than 300,000 survivors of human trafficking, including almost 79,000 youth and minors. Each year, over 7,000 people experience homelessness in the Austin-Travis County area. Our neighbors are suffering. We must come together to figure out  lasting solutions. We need to be honest and transparent about what we can do to help one another.

As the CEO of Ascension Texas, I have the responsibility to make sure we are helping these vulnerable populations through the healthcare we provide and the investment we make in our community partnerships. We are proud to announce a new partnership through which Seton will provide clinical and office space to The SAFE Alliance and Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO). This collaboration will pilot new and innovative ways to support survivors of human trafficking and people experiencing homelessness and is the first step to longer-term solutions.

Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery. Innocent people are trafficked right here in Central Texas. The SAFE Alliance, in collaboration with Seton, will provide an assessment and navigation center where human trafficking survivors can access basic needs, counseling, case management, and a supportive survivor community. Aligned with Ascension’s national efforts, we are helping fight this growing epidemic by training our healthcare providers to identify signs of human trafficking.

One in six Austin residents live below the poverty line, and Austin experienced a five percent increase in homeless individuals counted between 2017 and 2018. During the 2016-2017 school year, 2,311 Austin ISD students were homeless. Without an aggressive community-wide effort, we won’t be able to fix this. We can and will help individuals experiencing homelessness improve their health, access housing and participate more fully in our community. The partnership between Seton and ECHO will help connect them with support and resources.

These partnerships are built to address issues specific to our community and are complemented by Seton’s partnership with the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas. Our innovative collaboration with the medical school connects healthcare and education that allows doctors to conduct groundbreaking research and implement new treatments. These advanced clinical capabilities result in the best outcomes, higher standards in quality and safety, patient satisfaction, and a medical system of the future for all our patients. This allows us to support our entire community with the highest level of care.

Last year, Ascension Texas provided over $250 million in charity care for people living in poverty. We continue to evaluate community needs to drive our support for new community benefit programs. We are grateful for all the partnerships that help ensure access to quality care for thousands of uninsured and underinsured Central Texans.

Ascension's mission calls us to treat everyone with dignity and respect. These partnerships are another example of our mission in action. We are committed to sustaining the health of our community, and we are honored to take on these challenges with organizations that share the same commitment.

To report tips, seek services, or ask for help related to human trafficking, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.