Harris County Commissioners on Tuesday briefly discussed a $2.5 billion bond proposal from the Harris Health System to fund the rebuilding and upgrading of several hospital district facilities, including the replacement of Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital.

Commissioners did not take any action on the proposal Tuesday afternoon, but will vote on it at a special meeting Aug. 17. The bond would require approval of Harris County voters in the November election.

The Harris Health Board of Trustees unanimously voted to put forth the bond proposal to Commissioners Court in April, with health system leaders underscoring the importance of receiving the money.

Rendering of proposed LBJ hospital in Harris County
A rendering of the proposed LBJ hospital in Harris County (Courtesy photo / Harris Health System)

“The need is urgent,” Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, president and CEO of Harris Health System, told Houston Landing. “The need is pervasive.”

If passed by voters, the bond package would include funding for:

  • a new hospital on the LBJ campus, including the addition of a new Level I-capable trauma center;
  • the renovation of the current LBJ Hospital;
  • the addition and renovation of Harris Health clinics across the county;
  • the renovation of Ben Taub Hospital.

Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey raised questions about the proposal during Tuesday’s meeting.

More than 80 percent of the proposed bond money, exceeding $2 billion, would be used to replace and renovate LBJ Hospital, Ramsey said. 

He questioned if LBJ was located within the floodplain, and whether it made sense to build a new hospital in the same location, as proposed, on floodplain land.

Ramsey also questioned whether it would make more sense to first fund the renovation and addition of community clinics across the county to alleviate pressure on the hospitals and then later focus on hospital renovations.

Ramsey said he has previously raised these questions during conversations with Harris Health officials. He discussed them again Tuesday, he said, to make the court aware.

Porsa said the phased construction and renovation plans begin with LBJ because it faces the greatest need. The hospital was almost shut down two years ago because of ongoing infrastructure issues, Porsa said. 

Harris Health, formerly known as the Harris County Hospital District, operates the county’s public safety net hospital system. It includes two hospitals and 20 clinics, health centers and specialty clinics.

Harris County currently has two adult Level I trauma centers — Red Duke Trauma Institute and Ben Taub Hospital, both located inside the Texas Medical Center — serving a population of almost 4.8 million. The American College of Surgeons recommends having one high-level trauma center for every 1 million people.

The impact a new adult Level I-capable trauma center could have on the lives of Harris County residents, especially those living in the county’s northeast corridor that are primarily served by LBJ, cannot be overstated, Porsa said.

“It’s a matter of life and death,” he said.

The bond proposal is projected to cost $6 a month for the owner of a home valued at $300,000. That will amount to about 2 cents per $100 in assessed value once the entire $2.5 billion has been borrowed in about a decade, according to Harris Health.

The total cost of the projects included in the bond proposal is $2.9 billion. In addition to bonds,  Harris Health intends to raise $100 million in philanthropic support and an additional $300 million from operational savings, Porsa said.

“This is a once in a lifetime type of project,” he said.

Editor’s Note: The story has been updated to include comments made Wednesday by Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, president and CEO of Harris Health System.

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Tim Carlin is the Houston Landing's civic engagement reporter. An Ohio native, Tim comes to Houston after spending a year in Greenville, South Carolina, covering Greenville County government for The Greenville...