COMMENTARY: Livestrong gift is direct result of Travis County’s investment

August 22, 2014

By Dr. Clay Johnston and Sen. Kirk Watson
Special to the American-Statesman

This week, the Livestrong Foundation announced its $50 million gift to create the Livestrong Cancer Institutes of the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin.

This innovative resource will change the way Central Texans take on this dreaded disease, ultimately changing the way cancer patients are treated around the world. It’s a perfect demonstration of the health care innovation that the Dell Medical School was created to pioneer.

Livestrong has made an enormously generous contribution to the medical school, the university, the cancer community — and to the people of Travis County, who made this opportunity possible with their vote two years ago to pursue 10 health care goals in 10 years. That vote confirmed and embraced a vision to make Austin a worldwide model of a healthy city and provided a foundation for opening a medical school at UT-Austin, building a modern teaching hospital, upgrading our safety net with uniquely Austin health clinics, and assuring better mental health care.

The 10-in-10 goals also included making Austin a center for comprehensive cancer care — making world-class, patient-centered cancer care available in Austin to all who need it, regardless of income or status. The Livestrong Cancer Institutes represent a major step toward achieving that vital objective.

The Institutes will do more than simply heal — they will improve the process of healing. They will strengthen the underpinnings of cancer care by adopting a sharp focus on patients and their needs.

“Patient-centered care” will be watchwords at the Livestrong Cancer Institutes. The phrase is shorthand for treatment strategies that attack malignancies while also putting patients’ needs and lives at the forefront of treatment and support. How should chemotherapy be balanced with a patient’s need for exercise and nutrition? How are family members cared for? How can doctors best deliver bad (and sometimes even good) news to patients?

In short, what strategies best suit individual cancer patients, and how can we best deliver them?

The Cancer Institutes will connect UT’s academic firepower to the Livestrong Foundation’s nearly two decades of work answering these questions and creating new models of care.

In this, the Institutes exemplify the innovations and advancements that the Dell Medical School aspires to create.

In too many cases, modern medical schools and health care models are not delivering the most appropriate care to patients who are desperate for it.

The Dell Medical School is being designed from the ground up — in partnership with the community around it and the region’s outstanding physicians — to recognize 21st century challenges and opportunities while sidestepping obsolete practices and outdated models that are holding back doctors, medical students, innovation and care.

This shared vision makes all of us kindred spirits with Livestrong, which has provided innovative support to cancer patients and survivors for 17 years — identifying effective approaches to cancer care and spreading them around the world.

The foundation, medical school and community all recognize the tremendous opportunity to make a difference, improving the lives of those we touch while creating new models of care that improve lives everywhere. The Livestrong Cancer Institutes will capitalize on that opportunity.

Virtually everyone has been touched by cancer. The people of Travis County voted to support the 10-in-10 vision, in part, to ensure that every Central Texan who needs it can access top-flight, patient-centered cancer care locally — in coordination with the great doctors already at work in Austin and through models that reward value.

The Livestrong Cancer Institutes begin to fulfill that promise.

Johnston is dean of the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. Watson, D-Austin, a cancer survivor and former Livestrong Foundation board member, is author of the 10 Goals in 10 Years health care initiative for Travis County.