Despite being the fastest-growing county in the state, Fort Bend County lacks a county hospital district to care for low-income residents. The county contracts medical services instead.
Harris and Montgomery counties have hospital districts, which provide a medical home and ongoing care for people with limited access to such services based on income, said Mary desVignes-Kendrick, director and health authority of the Fort Bend County Department of Health and Human Services.
Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert said the county commissioners discussed establishing a hospital district in the county nearly 30 years ago, but the idea never took hold.
Hebert said he would oppose it if proposed. The county contracts services to treat individuals who have incomes at various levels of poverty instead of depending on a hospital district.
“Hospital districts are extremely expensive for the benefits that they render,” Hebert said. “We’ve built a network of services that’s anchored around OakBend Hospital, which is
a charity hospital.”
The OakBend Medical Center has several hospital campuses—two in Richmond and one in Sugar Land—with 22 facilities throughout Fort Bend County in Houston and Wharton.
DesVignes-Kendrick said a hospital system might be something the county would need to look into in the future. But for now, contracting services is the best option, she said.
“We have contracts with a number of physicians scattered throughout Fort Bend County, and we also have contracts with a number of hospitals in Fort Bend County that include OakBend Medical Center, St. Luke’s [Health], Memorial [Hermann], [Houston] Methodist, MD Anderson [Cancer Center], just as examples,” desVignes-Kendrick said.
A hospital district would require significant overhead costs, but the county might have discussions about a hospital system 10 to 20 years down the road as Fort Bend’s population and percentage of socio-economically disadvantaged people grow, she said.
“We’re contracting with a good number of both outpatient and inpatient settings to add services provided so all of our dollars are spent on actual services,” desVignes-Kendrick said.
The county’s services include providing for indigent care, Hebert said, which serves those with annual income totalling less than 21 percent of the federal poverty income level, which varies depending on the number of people in a household. Fort Bend County also funds an emergency medical service, desVignes-Kendrick said.
Among Fort Bend’s other partnerships is one with AccessHealth, a not-for-profit organization with clinics throughout Fort Bend and Waller counties. AccessHealth does not turn patients away, and the cost of visits is based on a sliding scale.
“It offers a very good service out there for the cases that don’t require intense hospitalization and treatment, surgeries and such as that,” Hebert said.
Hebert said if the county were to create a hospital district, the expense would double Fort Bend’s tax rate, which is $0.474 per $100 assessed, taxable property valuation.
“We’re not hearing [the request] from the community,” Hebert said. “That says we’ve expanded it so much in the last five years that I think people are still trying to get their hands around everything that is offered.”