Central to Harris Health's transformative $2.9 billion capital facilities initiative and its overarching 2021-2025 Strategic Plan is the commitment to expanding primary care and improving access to specialty care through clinic-based facilities

By extending this outreach, Harris Health aspires to provide hassle-free and timely health care solutions, making a meaningful impact within the neighborhoods of Harris County.

Addressing long-term growth

Harris County Commissioners Court gave unanimous approval on Aug. 17 to include the $2.5 billion bond proposal from Harris Health on the upcoming Nov. 7 ballot. With voters' potential approval, the designated funds would cover a substantial portion of Harris Health's comprehensive facilities strategy, encompassing sizable renovations and new construction on its hospitals and clinics. Internal operational efficiencies, cost savings and philanthropic donations would be utilized to generate the outstanding $400 million not covered by the bond.

“The timeframe we were working under might take us 20 to 30 years or longer to work with our regular resources and tax support,” Louis Smith, senior executive vice president and chief operating officer for Harris Health said. “If voters approve, we will have the ability to move faster regarding our ability to serve the county and maybe even stay ahead of the continuing population growth.”

The plan calls for spending $500 million on three new health centers and specialty facilities, as well as renovating and upgrading infrastructure needs at existing clinics to better align its essential health care services in the community.

“About 1.6 million visits happened within our ambulatory clinics during our prior fiscal year. That’s the level of activity that we have coming through our doors, and that also shows the level of need that we have,” Jennifer Small, executive vice president and administrator for Harris Health Ambulatory Care Services said. “Imagine if we didn’t have our clinics and health centers, where would those patients go and how would it impact other hospitals in the community?”

Preparing for future demand

In preparation for the community's evolving needs and expansion, Harris Health has formulated a strategic facilities plan. The current demographic in Harris County includes approximately 1.27 million residents who live at or below 150% of the federal poverty level.

As of now, Harris Health addresses the medical requirements of approximately 25% of this population, furnishing primary care and an array of health care amenities. Another 44% of the population is likely to access care through a blend of federally qualified health centers, subsidized programs, private practices and health care providers. This still leaves roughly 31% or 393,000 people living at or below the 150% federal poverty level as likely users of Harris Health.

To complicate matters more, the number of uninsured residents in Harris County is expected to grow to more than 1.5 million by 2050. That means the likely number of people living at or below the federal poverty level will also grow.

Community needs assessment by Harris Health

For individuals with limited income, especially those lacking health insurance, obtaining health care in Harris County proves to be a challenge. An assessment of community needs, carried out by Harris Health during the formulation of its 2021-2025 Strategic Plan, underscored the urgent requirement to enhance access to primary and specialized medical services. Public health data revealed various repercussions stemming from difficulties in accessing health care, such as inadequate diabetes management, preventable hospitalizations and elevated mortality rates within the low-income community.

According to Small, uninsured individuals or those facing limited health care options typically seek help at Harris Health during emergencies via the emergency center or when hospitalization becomes essential. This situation underscores the difficulty in ensuring timely medical check-ups and health screenings despite their importance.

“Many patients do have chronic-disease related issues whether that be hypertension, heart disease or diabetes. The key is that when those conditions aren’t managed well it could lead to more serious conditions later on,” Small said. “Our goal with our plan is to ensure we address the areas of need and better support those specific communities.”

Enhancing health care access through Harris Health's facilities plan

Harris Health aims to mitigate the strain on its hospitals and nearby health care networks, all while promoting comprehensive health and disease prevention. This involves the strategic establishment of new clinics and outpatient sites in areas within northwest, southwest and east Harris County that have been recognized as high-priority community needs.

Aside from the $500 million investment in its outpatient and primary care platform, the strategic facilities plan includes:
  • $1.6 billion for a new Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital with additional inpatient beds and a Level 1 trauma capable center
  • $400 million for renovations to the existing LBJ Hospital
  • $400 million for renovations at Ben Taub Hospital
Given the current 90-100% daily occupancy rates at Harris Health's Ben Taub and LBJ hospitals, the urgency for additional hospital beds is evident. To optimize medical care provision, achieving an occupancy level of 85% or less is considered ideal.

As outlined in the facilities plan, LBJ Hospital aims to enhance its existing 215 beds (primarily double occupancy rooms) to better serve the local community's needs. Furthermore, the plan entails the construction of new private patient rooms at the Ben Taub Hospital campus, augmenting its current total of 402 beds.

Explore Harris Health's $2.9 billion plan to expand access in Harris County.

The above story was produced by Multi-Platform Journalist Holly Galvan with Community Impact's Storytelling team with information solely provided by the local business as part of their "sponsored content" purchase through our advertising team.