On November 7, Harris County voters will decide on a $2.5 billion bond proposal to fund Harris Health's facilities plan. From creating new clinics to serving underserved areas, this plan aims to enhance the overall health and well-being of Harris County.

Community Impact sat down with Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, President and CEO of Harris Health, as he delved into the details of the ambitious $2.9 billion facilities plan, shedding light on the motivations behind this transformative initiative for health care in Harris County.

Why is Harris Health embarking on a $2.9 billion facilities plan?

Dr. Porsa: There is a dire and urgent need to address some of our infrastructure issues, which has resulted because of years, if not decades, of a lack of or reduced investment in our infrastructure. Health systems and businesses tend to ignore routine capital and unfortunately, that has been the case with Harris Health System over the last several decades. In general, the system has been underfunded, which has translated into an underfunding of our routine capital, which was initially used to refresh and reinvest in the infrastructure. Now, we are facing two hospitals and several clinics that are literally falling apart. We are having a lot of infrastructure issues, some of which have actually put our patients and our employees in harm's way.

Additionally, we have a capacity issue. Almost everyone in Harris County is familiar with our hospitals, which are usually overflowed with patients. Our emergency rooms are often filled with patients who have been admitted to the hospital, but didn’t have an open room upstairs. Every morning, we start our day incapacitated because our emergency rooms are backed up. When that happens, the entire hospital becomes paralyzed since everything is stagnant.

How is the anticipated population growth in Harris County going to impact Harris Health and the need for quality health care?

Dr. Porsa: I often mention when I'm talking to people that almost exactly 30 years ago, I trained and interned at Harris Health System and Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital. The hospital at that time had quad occupancy rooms. Over the years, we’ve wanted to give our patients more privacy by offering semi-private accommodations. There are now two patients per room in that hospital, so the capacity is basically half of what it was 30 years ago. When you look at Harris County's population, it has more than doubled from just over 2 million residents 30 years ago to almost 5 million today. In addition, Harris County has the highest rate and number of uninsured patients today at 1.2 million people and we anticipate that number to rise to 1.5 million by 2040.

We know a major part of the facilities plan focuses on hospital and acute care. However, tell me how it also addresses improving access to primary care?

Dr. Porsa: When you look at the numbers, and this is something that I'm very proud of, is the fact that Harris Health really is a community-based organization. Combined, our hospitals had 30,000 hospital discharges last year. In our clinics, we have had more than 1.6 million patient encounters, and part of this $2.9 billion infrastructure improvement over the next decade is actually a half-billion-dollar investment in our clinics. We are building three new clinics, one in East Harris County, one in Northwest Harris County and one in Southwest Harris County. We are also planning to replace some of our aging clinics, as our oldest clinic, for example, is over 50 years old.

We are doing that because, at the end of the day, this isn't about managing disease. We do not want to wait until patients become ill before welcoming them to our care. This is really about promoting health and preventing disease. We want to reach out to our communities and provide an opportunity for our communities to have access to preventive care, to primary care so that we can have a healthier community. Our mission at the end of the day is improving the health of our communities. We will never be able to achieve that mission just through our hospitals. We must invest in our communities that don’t have adequate access to healthcare.

Why is your investment in LBJ Hospital so important for Harris County, especially with its Level I trauma capabilities?

Dr. Porsa: Ben Taub is our level 1 trauma center in Harris County, a county with almost 5 million people, which in reality, should have at least five adult level-one trauma centers. If those living in the perimeter of Harris County suffer a severe motor vehicle accident, are stabbed or wounded and need immediate access to a trauma center, they will have to drive or fly into the Texas Medical Center.

By establishing another level 1 trauma center on the LBJ campus, we are addressing some of the accessibility issues in Harris County, as well as the geography issue. LBJ Hospital serves the entire northeast corridor of Harris County, which is a vast area with a large population. By building a level 1 trauma center hospital, we are not only addressing the needs of Harris County as a whole but also those of northeast Harris County, which are almost exclusively dependent on LBJ hospital for their health care needs.

How is the facilities plan being funded?

Dr. Porsa: There is an urgency for this investment of $2.9 billion, $2.5 billion of which is to be put up for a bond referendum on November 7. Over the next decade, the other $400 million we anticipate will come through philanthropy, operational cost savings and operational cash.

The bond proposal is up for consideration by voters on Nov. 7. If approved, what is the financial obligation and impact to the average homeowner?

Dr. Porsa: Voting is on Nov. 7, but early voting actually starts on October 23. I have been telling all my folks, please don't wait until the last minute to vote. Vote early. The impact on an average Houstonian, somebody who owns a house valued at $300,000, is about a two-cent tax rate increase. The total financial impact on Harris County homeowners whose home is valued at $300,000 is about $6 a month, or about $70 a year.

Learn more how Harris Health will use the bond to place a new hospital on the LBJ campus, renovate the original LBJ building, enhance the capacity of Ben Taub Hospital and provide additional clinics and essential care in high-need areas.

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.