San Antonio hospital closing; city leaders call it ‘concerning’

Texas Vista Medical Center ‘does not want to close,’ officials said

SAN ANTONIO – Texas Vista Medical Center (TVMC), formerly known as Southwest General Hospital, will close after nearly 40 years of operation, multiple sources confirmed to KSAT Wednesday.

A press release published after KSAT broke the news states that the 325-bed medical facility, owned by Steward Hospitals, will close on May 1.

The press release said Steward officials sent a proposal to University Health System and Bexar County to take control of TVMC, “but UHS and Bexar County have not accepted our offer.”

“On limited resources, TVMC supports limited-income, high-needs patient populations. Nearly one quarter of the hospital’s patients cannot and do not pay for the services the hospital provides,” according to the press release. “If TVMC is forced to close as a result of inaction by UHS and Bexar County, emergency department boarding times will increase, wait times for appointments with specialists will get longer, and the time and attention given to each patient in the area will suffer.”

“TVMC does not want to close, and the consequences of our closure will cause an immediate public health crisis for the city’s most vulnerable patients. We offer critical emergency care and OB/GYN care for the San Antonio area,” said Jon Turton, President of Texas Vista Medical Center.

Texas Health and Human Services also confirmed to KSAT on Wednesday afternoon that the agency received a letter from Steward Health South Region President Joseph A. DeSchryver about the closure.

“On March 1, 2023, HHSC received Texas Vista Medical Center’s closure notification. According to the notice, the hospital will be closed effective May 1, 2023,” THHS Press Officer Tiffany Young said in an email.

But in a statement late Wednesday afternoon, Bexar County officials said “staff has not received a formal proposal from Steward Health Care or Texas Vista Medical Center (TVMC).”

The statement further said that county staff met with Turton and TVMC Medical Director, Dr. Jason Miller on Jan. 20 to discuss the financial challenges of the hospital.

“All discussions with TVMC were limited to verbal communications. Mr. Turton informed Bexar County staff that the hospital would need a bail out of approximately $5 to $10 million of taxpayer dollars to sustain Texas Vista Medical Center, a for-profit, physician-led private company. Mr. Turton assured Bexar County staff that, to his knowledge, TVMC was not closing. He stated that the parent health system, Steward Health, was facing challenges and he had been instructed to limit his communications with local entities pending some resolution to these challenges. Since this conversation took place, Steward Health has not attempted to communicate with Bexar County, and staff has not been asked to vet any formal proposal to assume control of TVMC. Bexar County stands committed to our community and ensuring that residents have access to healthcare as evidenced by the commitment of $30 million to University Health for the construction of a state-of-the-art community hospital to serve the residents of southern Bexar and the community at-large.”

Bexar County Judge Peter Sakai said he reached out to University Health leadership and will help coordinate with other community health partners to assist the more than 175 patients who will be directly affected by the closure, as well as the 842 employees who work at TVMC.

“Bexar County and University Health System are in the process of building a new hospital to better serve the needs of Southside residents,” said Sakai.

KSAT reported in Sept. 2021 that University Health plans to build a new hospital in the area after the Bexar County Hospital District Board of Managers approved a $10.4 million purchase of land near South Zarzamora and Jaguar Parkway.

University Health said in a statement that “we can say for certain that these two for-profit, publically traded companies have not given University Health any opportunity to ‘take over control’ of Texas Vista Medical Center under mutually acceptable terms that are in the best interests of the taxpayers of this community.”

“Additionally, the building is more than 40 years old and would require significant renovation and IT upgrades to bring it up to University Health standards. The lifespan of a hospital is generally about 50 years due to continually changing technologies. Fortunately, University Health is already in the process of constructing a new state-of-the art community hospital on the Southside on property across from Texas A&M. These plans are well on their way as architects are already on board and the Bexar County Hospital District Board of Managers will review and is expected to approve a construction manager at its March meeting.

Our priority at this point in time, given today’s confirmation that Texas Vista will be closing as of May 1, is to work in collaboration with health systems and partners across the community to:

  • Ensure patients are assisted in accessing high quality care at another facility, especially patients in need of behavioral health services
  • Work with the University of the Incarnate Word School of Medicine to develop plans for resident physicians serving at Texas Vista to be moved to other local graduate medical education programs
  • Encourage Texas Vista staff members to apply for the many open positions with University Health and other health care organizations who are all actively recruiting.

We are disappointed that these two for-profit companies made the decision to identify University Health and Bexar County as somehow being responsible for their inability to successfully operate Texas Vista, and to imply that local taxpayers should bail them out. Statements included on their press release about University Health’s mission, strategic priorities, commitment to the underserved and finances are inaccurate.”

According to the TVMC website, the hospital is the only healthcare facility in that section of the city. It’s located at 7400 Barlite Boulevard on the Southwest Side.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg told KSAT that “any loss of access to health care – particularly in underserved portions of our community – is concerning. The announced hospital closure is a loss for the South Side and our city as a whole.”

District 4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia said “it is disheartening to hear about the closure of a local healthcare facility, and equally concerning is the devastating impact this will have on our residents living in southwest San Antonio.”

“More than a quarter of District 4 residents are uninsured and struggle to receive the healthcare they need, so this closure will only exacerbate prevalent health disparities. I am also concerned about the loss of 800 jobs and the economic impact of this closure,” Garcia continued.

The press release says resources challenges for the hospital have been “long-standing.”

“Although the City of San Antonio does not own or operate hospitals, area hospital leaders, such as UHS, have informed us that they will be meeting to discuss the impact of this development, and best approaches for ensuring that all San Antonio residents have the access they deserve,” Nirenberg said.

The full press release from Steward Health Care can be read below:

Steward Health Care today announced its decision to close Texas Vista Medical Center (TVMC) effective May 1, 2023. On limited resources, TVMC supports limited-income, high-needs patient populations. Nearly one quarter of the hospital’s patients cannot and do not pay for the services the hospital provides. Additionally, over half of TVMC patients are government pay patients, which means the hospital is paid less than the cost of patient care. Steward has put forth a proposal for University Health System (UHS) and Bexar County to take over control of TVMC, but UHS and Bexar County have not accepted our offer.

TVMC’s resource challenges have been long-standing. When Steward Health Care assumed operations of Texas Vista Medical Center in 2017, the facility was struggling financially, as it was choked out by the well-heeled “public” hospital competitor across town. The COVID-19 pandemic further placed a significant fiscal burden on TVMC. Steward was able and willing to assume financial losses and risks during that extraordinary public health crisis; it is not sustainable to do so any longer. In order for the hospital to continue to provide safe, high-quality services—particularly for the region’s behavioral health patients, trauma patients, and women—an external agent must step up to assist the facility. Barring this, the facility is forced to close. If TVMC is forced to close as a result of inaction by UHS and Bexar County, emergency department (ED) boarding times will increase, wait times for appointments with specialists will get longer, and the time and attention given to each patient in the area will suffer.

Jon Turton, President of Texas Vista Medical Center, said, “TVMC does not want to close, and the consequences of our closure will cause an immediate public health crisis for the city’s most vulnerable patients. We offer critical emergency care and OB/GYN care for the San Antonio area. Given that TVMC is a significant provider of behavioral health care in the region, other hospitals will immediately see an increase in behavioral health patients at a time when that system is already strained. We regret that the local community’s lack of adequate support for vulnerable patients has forced TVMC to close its doors. We are still hoping that the county or other entity will assume control of the hospital.”

Steward has proposed that UHS and Bexar County assume control of TVMC, given the high-needs patient population it serves. UHS and Bexar County have the resources and the standing to provide for this community. UHS is a public charity created by the Texas Constitution. It gets, for the purpose of “management and operations” [Bexar County Hospital District Board of Managers, November 16, 2021], $472 million in local property tax dollars, pays no taxes of its own, receives large charitable donations, receives significant amounts of supplemental Medicaid payments (including HARP payments for which TVMC would immediately qualify if UHS runs it as a non-profit), gets paid higher commercial rates than TVMC, and has significant cash reserves and financial resources.

It is part of UHS’ original charter to care for the indigent population of Bexar County. This service has largely fallen on TVMC’s shoulders over the past few years. Meanwhile, UHS has used its vast resources to build a half billion-dollar state-of-the-art hospital that will serve a wealthier patient base in a more affluent area. If such a large public charity has the funds to build this new hospital—off of which it will make significant money from its operation—it can afford to assume control of TVMC.

Related:


About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.