Bud Kennedy

Here's why county leaders should expand JPS healthcare now

What are the healthcare needs in Tarrant County?

A recent study suggests that more public healthcare centers are needed in Tarrant County. The study will be presented to a special committee on Tuesday.
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A recent study suggests that more public healthcare centers are needed in Tarrant County. The study will be presented to a special committee on Tuesday.

County leaders waited three years to expand the local public healthcare and psychiatric care system, and guess what?

The price went up.

Instead of an $809 million bond election for a new psychiatric hospital and medical tower, Tarrant County's reluctant commissioners face $1.2 billion in needed upgrades, new facilities and neighborhood medical centers for the countywide JPS Health Network.

County Judge Glen Whitley of Hurst set a July deadline Tuesday to decide on a possible November bond election to address part of JPS' needs, and commissioners also discussed leasing or sharing private facilities.

“Time is a-wasting,” said Commissioner Roy C. Brooks, the only Fort Worth vote on the four-member Commissioners Court.

“Now is the time for action … We are just treading water. ”

Commissioners now have numbers showing just how badly we need help:

More babies die in Tarrant County than in other urban Texas counties. (And prenatal care starts later.)

Children aren't getting their shots as often as in other counties. One in five adolescents is obese.

We have major depressive episodes at a rate twice as high as what is considered “severe.”

More than half our residents haven't seen a dentist in at least a year.

All this in a county with 2.1 million people, growing to 3 million within 20 years.

“We have needs into the future all around the county,” said Charlie Powell of Fort Worth, chairman of the appointed countywide board that oversees JPS.

“We've been waiting to see exactly where commissioners want to start.”

At a briefing to discuss the next step, Whitley said commissioners should get moving.

They backed off a 2015 bond election after Tea Party pushback from Arlington. (Judging from how other elections came out, it probably would have passed.)

The hospital board supports a community committee's plan for:

A new cancer center,

A new day surgery center,

A new psychiatric hospital, and

Four new medical centers, in southwest Arlington near Kennedale (thank the Tea Party); between Saginaw and Keller; near White Settlement; and in far south Fort Worth, near North Crowley High School.

Commissioners haven't made any final decisions except one: They won't raise the tax rate.

“That's the golden rule and the rule we need to follow,” said county Administrator G.K. Maenius, the county's business manager.

Whitley and Commissioner Gary Fickes of Southlake said JPS might lease or share facilities, or partner with private companies.

Commissioners haven't committed to spending any money yet.

But JPS's growth is not only good for our health. It's also good for business.

Paul Paine of Near Southside Inc., which promotes development in south Fort Worth, said he'd like to see JPS share some sort of new facility with the forthcoming TCU and UNT Health Science Center School of Medicine opening next year.

“It's a huge opportunity for the south-side medical district and also for the county,” Paine said.

Fort Worth is pitching the south side as a new “medical innovation district” to draw students, research and business startups.

“The benefit for all of Tarrant County is tremendous,” Paine said.

“We already have a robust nursing school [UT Arlington]. If we can tie that nursing school and our medical schools together with JPS somehow, it will have a cascading effect throughout the county.”

No reason to wait any longer.

Follow a patient through a heart catheterization procedure at the JPS Health Network Heart and Vascular Invasive Care Center

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