What are the healthcare needs in Tarrant County?
Insufficient mental health services, long wait times and aging buildings top the list of challenges patients in the John Peter Smith health system face. That could change with an $800 million bond proposal before Tarrant County voters.
Tarrant County Commissioners are asking voters to support that bond that would help fund $1.2 billion in upgrades, the first bond request since 1985. Projects include a new behavioral and mental health hospital, four regional medical centers, an outpatient surgery center, increased bed space and expanded cancer treatment.
With the health network fronting $10 million, the county could borrow about $200 million initially to get construction going, said county administrator G.K. Maenius.
The revenue generated by the new services would go toward the bond in a pay-as-you-go set up. The plan doesn’t call for increased fees beyond inflation or a higher property tax rate.
“Our request is the public allow us to borrow up to $800 million, but our goal is never have to go that high,” he said.
Early voting starts monday; Election Day is Nov. 6.
Long road, best plan
Commissioners arrived that the proposal after a citizens committee recommended five areas to be addressed: mental and behavioral health services, cancer treatment, regional health, inpatient bed space and day surgery. A consultant priced the projects at $1.2 billion.
County Judge Glen Whitley, a Hurst Republican, said commissioners had to balance the need for services in a growing and diversifying population with fiscal responsibility.
“You have old technology in old buildings,” he said. “With all the advancement in medicine you have to be able to say we have the stuff to handle it.”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Andy Nguyen had originally been against the bond, looking instead at a $750 million plan. But he voted in favor of putting the bond proposal in the ballot and asked voters to approve it.
Behavioral and mental health
Tarrant County has more than 2 million residents, but JPS has a little more than 100 beds for mental health patients. A new hospital devoted to behavioral and mental health would bring that number to more than 200.
“Mental health was an overriding concern of the population,” Maenius said.
Right now now JPS sends mental health patients to private facilities, which can be a cost $625 per day. In fiscal year 2018, a larger mental health program would have saved the county $9 million compared to outsourcing, Maenius said.
The main patient tower at JPS was built in the 1970s, and it shows.
Smalls rooms, sometimes with double occupancy, lack the modern equipment that has become standard in hospital care. Instead of providing testing, scans or therapy in the same complex, patients must be carted across Main Street to a separate facility, Maenius said.
A new patient tower, with centralized services, will add about 100 beds, all single occupancy, Maenius said.
The county had considered renovating the building, but rooms are too small to accommodate modern technology.
Tarrant County Health
Keeping people healthy rather than treating disease has become the model for health care. Four new community health centers will provided care closer to home, Maenius said.
Tarrant County lacks mass transit, making it hard from residents to visit JPS near downtown Fort Worth. When a person lacks transportation, they’re less likely to seek medical care.
“Eventually they’ll have a mode of transportation — in the back of an ambulance,” Maenius said. “Services in an emergency room are easily more expensive than preventative care.”
Modeled after a new clinic in Euless, the four health centers, called “medical homes,” will provide general practice as well as optometry, dental and other care in a “one stop shop” for medical needs.
An outpatient surgery center will benefit not just those needing a hip replacement or other non-emergency, elective surgery, it will also free up room in the hospital’s emergency room, part of the Level 1 trauma center.
Right now those non-emergency surgeries share space with emergency operations, like gun shot wounds and car accident injuries. That’s a problem when JPS is the only Level 1 trauma center in Tarrant County and one of three in West Texas. The others are in El Paso and Lubbock.