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Harris Health will receive a one-time infusion of federal funding from the American Rescue Act to close a $45 million shortfall due to A budget battle among top Harris County officials last year.
“[I feel]a sense of relief, most importantly a relief,” said Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, CEO of the Safety Net Hospital District, which serves low-income and uninsured residents in Harris County.
In September, Dr. Porsa testified before the Commissioners’ Court about the impact of the absence of new revenue rates on the Harris Health system.
“We’re not magicians, and that means cutting services,” Polsa said at the meeting.
He worries that the multimillion-dollar deficit will delay their plans to expand cancer screening or cut back on services they outsource to health care providers, such as behavioral health, dialysis and hospice care.
Harris County is poised to approve the proposed tax rate with a Democratic majority in the courthouse. However, Republican commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey boycotted the meeting, saying the rate was too high for taxpayers. In the absence of a quorum, a much lower no new income rate was used.
Over the next few weeks, Harris County commissioners found a stopgap solution to plug the fiscal gap facing the hospital district. Federal funding from the American Rescue Act provided a buffer, allowing Harris Health to shift funds and ensure no cuts to services this year.
construction Quentin Meese Clinic Ongoing – Efforts to reduce the backlog of 3,000 patients requiring colonoscopies by September 2022.The facility is said to be at risk of delaying its opening document From the Harris County Office of Budget and Management. But now, federal funding allows Harris Health to afford clinic staffing.
“I know for a fact that once our endoscopy kit comes online this summer, we can start doing colonoscopies,” Porsa said. “It’s really, really important.”
The immediate fire has been put out, but the long-term future of the system is also at stake. Harris Health is preparing to present a bond issue to voters this year to fund a solution to Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital’s ongoing infrastructure problem: building an entirely new replacement hospital.
Dr. Porsa, who plans to submit a proposal to the hospital board in March, said the stopgap would keep the system’s credit rating intact. Ending the fiscal year in debt could lower the system’s score and require it to borrow at higher rates — a harder sell to voters at the ballot.
Discussions began about changing hospitals after a series of plumbing problems were discovered at LBJ Hospital. Aown Syed, the hospital’s vice president of operations, said the most dramatic incident occurred on the morning of Aug. 22, 2022, when water began to seep from the ceiling into the patient care area.
“It’s almost like we’re being flooded,” Saeed said. “All of our crew jumped in. It’s not a matter of where you are. Everyone knows everyone on the ground.”
The coupling or the material connecting the pipes together has been damaged. The heating and hot water line on the fourth floor started leaking. The water then dripped down to the second and third floors, soaking drywall and ceiling tiles.
“The staff were soaked — no matter what they were wearing,” Syed said. “There are debris everywhere.”
About 45 hospital beds are offline. Patients were transferred to Ben Taub and other partner institutions.
“Our whole hospital is at a standstill,” Saeed said. “In a sense, we have people in emergency rooms who still have to go upstairs to be admitted, and our patients on those floors now have to be transported out.”
Over the next 18 months, LBJ Hospital underwent a partial overhaul of its plumbing infrastructure, repairing all rusted pipe fittings in patient care areas, Syed said.
However, the infrastructure of sanitary water supply pipes carrying sewage still needs to be improved.
The building housing the LBJ Hospital first opened in 1989 to replace the Jefferson Davis Hospital, which closed that same year.
Plumbing issues aside, Syed believes the actual size of the hospital is too small compared to needs. Patients are now paired into a room. Also, limited space in emergency rooms, operating rooms and clinics has contributed to the backlog, he said.
“We’re the only facility northeast of Houston,” Syed said. “Unfortunately, if we’re not here, the reality is it’s a desert.”
Replacing hospitals isn’t the only long-term financial concern after adopting relatively low property tax rates.
Harris Health’s chief operating officer, Louis Smith, confirmed at a Nov. 15 conference that Harris Health expects to face a $150 million deficit next year if the no-new-revenue rate remains unchanged.
“This $45 million is a Band-Aid to plug a hole for this fiscal year,” said Daniel Ramos, executive director of the Harris County Office of Budget and Management.
Harris Health will need to work with the budget office to make up the shortfall, especially if the system’s revenues aren’t growing but costs from inflation and staffing shortages remain high.
“The funding is only for one year, and we don’t have unlimited ARPA dollars,” County Judge Lena Hidalgo said after the committee voted to allocate the ARPA dollars to Harris Health. “Next year, we still have to figure out what to do to plug that hole.”