QUESTION: Gov. Greg Abbott previously stated that a shelter in place would not include houses of worship. Can you get clarification concerning the order by Gregg County and the city of Longview?
ANSWER: Earlier this month, Abbott issued an executive order that, in part, prohibited social gatherings of groups of more than 10 people. It didn’t mention churches. He has left the door open, though, for cities and counties to craft their own rules regarding requirements for sheltering at home, and so you’ll find that Longview’s order is more restrictive regarding church.
The Gregg County/Longview order does not mention a 10-person limit. Instead, we’re all ordered to shelter at our place of residence. “To the extent individuals are using shared or outdoor spaces. they must at all times as reasonably possible maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from any other person when they are outside. All persons may leave their residences only for Essential Activities, Essential Governmental Functions, or to operate Essential Businesses....” as defined in the order.
Then, in the essential businesses part of the order you’ll find this: “Religious services provided in residences, health care operations, at funerals, or provided online while being broadcast from a religious facility.”
So, obviously, I’m sure we could all find ways to try to get around this order, but as city spokesman Shawn Hara explained to me, the issue is to look to the overall intent of the order.
Q: In February, the newspaper published a story about an $80 million gift from the East Texas Medical Center Foundation to establish the University of Texas medical school in Tyler. Is it possible to learn the source of this foundation’s income? Is it from patient load?
A: This isn’t a simple answer, so bear with me.
A couple of years ago, what was the East Texas Medical Center Regional Healthcare System was purchased by a partnership that included Ardent Health Services and the University of Texas System (which includes The University of Texas Health Science System at Tyler).
The money from that sale was used to create the private East Texas Medical Center Foundation. Dawn Franks, executive director of that organization, explained to me that the East Texas Medical Center health care system had been a public charity, with a public nonprofit charity foundation that helped support the hospital. That foundation, though, is being converted to a private foundation that must follow requirements to distribute a certain percentage of its assets each year.
“The money going into the foundation is a result of the sale. Now, we have a board of directors for the East Texas Medical Center Foundation, and they will make decisions from now on about which qualifying nonprofit organizations will be granted funds from the required distributions,” Franks said.
The foundation won’t be conducting fundraisers like the original foundation, she explained.
“There is enough funding there that they’ll just simply make grants from the assets that are now sitting there,” she said. “Those assets will be invested to grow so that the foundation can make more gifts over time.”