Harris Health board members on Thursday unanimously agreed to move forward with a $2.5 billion bond proposal to build a new Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital and make what they say are sorely needed upgrades throughout the county’s public health care system, which treats the region’s poor and uninsured.
The board next will seek approval from Harris County commissioners, who will have the final say on the bond amount and whether the proposal will be placed on the November ballot. The proposed bond would finance the project over 10 years, with an additional $300 million in county funds and $100 million in grants and philanthropy.
The health system has struggled to keep up with population growth, officials say, and the major expansion is necessary to handle the projected increase in uninsured patients who rely on Harris Health for care. During Thursday’s board meeting, Harris Health CEO Dr. Esmaeil Porsa choked up as he recounted seeing patients being treated in hallways during his regular walks around LBJ hospital.
“That should not be happening,” he said. “That is not equitable health. We should not expose our patients and our employees to this situation on a daily basis.”
Both Harris Health hospitals — LBJ and Ben Taub — opened more than 30 years ago at their current locations. Since then, the county’s population has increased from roughly 2.7 million to 4.7 million, with a quarter of those residents lacking insurance. In addition to a new, larger hospital on the existing LBJ campus in northeast Houston, the project would include a major expansion of the current facilities and three new outpatient centers.
Located at 5656 Kelley St., just north of Kashmere Gardens, LBJ hospital is the busiest Level III trauma center in the state with more than 80,000 annual patient visits, according to the health system.
The new hospital would become the county’s third Level I adult trauma center and the first outside the Texas Medical Center. A Level I designation provides the most comprehensive care for injuries, including 24-hour coverage by general surgeons and a broader availability of specialty services. The American College of Surgeons recommends at least one Level 1 trauma center for every million people.
The new LBJ would expand the number of inpatient beds from 215 to 390, with room to add another 60, and allow for the beds to be used for interchangeable needs, according to planning documents. The building adds capacity for patients under observation and includes a helipad for those who need to be transported by air. Additional parking garages will be built on the campus.
The current LBJ would undergo $433 million in renovations “to address critical service gaps” and provide more outpatient services, planning documents say. A renovation at Ben Taub would add a new inpatient tower with 120 patient rooms and extend the facility’s life span by 15 years. Low-volume outpatient centers would be expanded, and three new outpatient centers would be built in east, northwest and southwest Harris County.
Seems like some long overdue business to me. This does still need to be approved by Commissioners Court before it can be placed on the ballot, but I would expect that to be a formality. As is often the case with these things, I’ll be interested to see if there’s any organized opposition to it.