Voters in November will have to decide whether or not to fund a $2.5 billion expansion over the next 10 years for the Harris Health hospital system in a move that could expand health care access for more than 1 million uninsured residents after Harris County commissioners unanimously approved the bond election Aug. 17.

Quote of note

William McKeon, president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center, said at the August meeting that he witnessed the health system overwhelmed during the pandemic and that approving the bond will set the tone for the city’s health care system for the next 20 years.

“What is really at the nerve center of this great county is Harris Health. We saw this in COVID. We saw facilities leaking and falling apart at a time when people needed us to focus on care. So this bond referendum is so important to us,” McKeon said.

If approved by voters, the $2.5 billion bond would help fund the following improvements and expansion within the Harris Health System, according to a news release:

  • $1.6 billion toward constructing a new Level 1-capable trauma center at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in northeast Houston
  • $400 million toward renovating the existing LBJ Hospital to address current service gaps and increase outpatient services
  • $400 million toward increasing capacity at Ben Taub Hospital in the Texas Medical Center by adding at least 120 patient rooms, which expands the facility’s lifespan by at least 15 years
  • $500 million toward creating three new community clinics in precincts 3, 4 and 2 that are designated as high-need areas
The total cost of the projects is estimated at $2.9 billion. The $400 million not covered by the bond would be raised either through internal operational savings, cost savings or philanthropy, according to Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, president and CEO of Harris Health System. He said he hopes the public will support the measure come November.

"The need is clear. The need is urgent. [Or else] terrible things are going to happen. Our infrastructure will fail and people will suffer," Porsa said.

Digging deeper

“Harris Health System is a lifeline for our most vulnerable populations. By supporting the Harris Health bond initiative, we can ensure the continued success of facilities like the renowned Ben Taub Hospital, one of only two Level 1 trauma centers in our region," Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said in a news release.
  • Harris County’s population has nearly doubled since both LBJ Hospital and Ben Taub were constructed 30 years ago.
  • Both hospitals haven’t undergone significant upgrades or renovations since that time, according to a news release.

The cost

Over the next 10 years, the bond is projected to impact the average homeowner with an approximate cost of $6 per month, according to the news release.

Also of note

Updating the bond’s language to satisfy ongoing litigation between Harris County and the state over Senate Bill 1750 was also approved Aug. 17. The county lawsuit has escalated to the Texas Supreme Court after the state appealed the Travis County district judge’s court order that sided with Harris County on Aug. 15.

  • SB 1750 was set to go into effect Sept. 1 and eliminates Harris County’s election administrator system.
  • The bond will mention both the names of current Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum as well as Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth.