Harris Health’s $45 million deficit ends American Rescue Act stopgap after last fall’s budget war – Houston Public Media

Harris Health System

Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital Building

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Harris Health will receive one-time federal funds from the American Rescue Act to fill the $45 million shortfall. Last year there was a budget battle between top Harris County officials.

“(I feel) relieved, more relieved than anything,” said Dr. Esmail Porsa, CEO of the Safety Net Hospital District.

In September, Dr. Porsa testified in the Commissioner’s Court that the Harris Health System would not be affected by any new revenue rates.

Porsa said at the meeting, “We are not magicians, this means cutting services.”

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He worried that the multimillion-dollar deficit would delay his plans to expand cancer screening or cut services contracted to healthcare providers, such as behavioral health, dialysis and hospice care.

Harris County was poised to approve the proposed tax rate with a Democratic majority on the court. However, Republican commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey boycotted the meeting, saying the rate was too high for taxpayers. Without a quorum, the much lower no-new revenue rate was adopted.

In the coming weeks, Harris County commissioners found a stopgap solution to fill the hospital district’s financial gap. Federal money from the American Rescue Act has provided a cushion, allowing Harris Health to move the money around and ensure that services will not be cut this year.

Building of; construction of Quentin Meese Outpatient Clinic Ongoing – Efforts to clear the backlog of 3,000 patients needing colonoscopies by September 2022. There was a risk of opening late according to the facility documents From the Harris County Office of Budget and Management. But now, federal funds allow Harris Health to afford the clinic’s staff.

“I know for a fact that this summer once our endoscopy suite comes online, we can start doing colonoscopies,” Porsa said. “It’s really, really important.”

The immediate fire has been extinguished, but the long-term future of the system is also at stake. Harris Health this year’s Lyndon B. Johnson is preparing to approach voters with a bond question to provide funding to address ongoing infrastructure problems at the hospital: the construction of an entirely new replacement hospital.

Dr. Porsa, who plans to present a proposal to the hospital board in March, said the stopgap preserves the system’s credit rating. Ending the fiscal year with debt could lower the system’s score and require borrowing at a higher rate – a tough sell to voters in an election.

Talks about a replacement hospital began after a series of plumbing problems were discovered at LBJ Hospital. The most notable occurred on the morning of August 22, 2022, when water began to seep through the ceiling in patient care areas, according to the hospital’s vice president of operations, Aeon Syed.

“It was as if we were drowning in the flood,” said Syed. “All of our crews had jumped. It didn’t matter what position you were in. Everyone knew a hand on the ground.”

Harris Health

Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital suffered from a plumbing leak in August 2020.

The coupling or pipe joining material was worn out. The hot water line started leaking on the fourth floor. The water then trickled down to the second and third floors, soaking sheetrock and ceiling tiles.

“Whatever the employees were wearing, they were drenched,” Syed said. “There was debris everywhere.”

About 45 beds went offline. Patients were transferred to Ben Taub and other partner facilities.

“Our entire hospital had ground to a halt,” Syed said. “In the sense of saying we have people in the emergency room and they still need to come up to be admitted and we have patients on these floors who now have to be taken out.”

Syed said that for the next 18 months, LBJ Hospital underwent a partial overhaul of its plumbing infrastructure, which fixed all rusted couplings in patient care areas.

However, the infrastructure of the sanitary water lines that transport sewage is still in need of renewal.

Harris Health

During a plumbing leak in August 2020, Lyndon B. Nurse station on the 4th floor of Johnson’s.

The building that houses LBJ Hospital first opened in 1989 as a replacement for Jefferson Davis Hospital, which closed the same year.

Beyond the plumbing issues, Syed believes the physical size of the hospital is too small compared to demand. Patients are now kept in pairs in a room. Plus, limited space in emergency rooms, operating rooms and clinics is fostering a backlog, he said.

“We’re the only facility here on the northeast side of Houston,” Syed said. “If we weren’t here, unfortunately, the reality is that this is a desert.”

The replacement hospital was not the only long-term financial concern following the adoption of a relatively low property tax rate.

Harris Health is projected to face losses of $150 million next year if the no-new revenue rate continues, Chief Operating Officer Louis Smith confirmed at a November 15 meeting.

“This $45 million is a band-aid to fill a hole for this fiscal year,” said Daniel Ramos, executive director of Harris County’s Office of Budget and Management.

Harris Health will need to work with the budget office to make up that shortfall, especially if the system’s revenue doesn’t grow, but inflation and staffing shortages keep costs high.

“This funding is only for one year, we don’t have infinite ARPA dollars,” County Judge Lina Hidalgo said after commissioners voted to approve the allocation of ARPA dollars to Harris Health. “Next year, we still have to figure out what to do to fill this hole.”


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