Health & Science

Harris Health President and CEO Ousted, Challenges Face Future Replacement

The county’s public hospital and clinic system will be looking for a new president and CEO, after the board voted 6-2 to let its contract expire with the current leader, David Lopez.

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David Lopez

The county’s public hospital and clinic system will be looking for a new president and CEO, after the board voted 6-2 to let its contract expire with the current leader, David Lopez.

Lopez has led Harris Health for a decade, overseeing the building of new outpatient clinics and leading a new regional health partnership with private hospitals.

That partnership, known as an 1115 waiver, changed how Medicaid dollars flowed through the region.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says he wasn’t surprised by Lopez’s ouster.

“He’s done some very good work on the 1115 waiver and that whole process,” Emmett said. “But the board of managers obviously lost confidence that he was the right guy to keep moving forward.”

Although Harris Health has its own board, it’s the County Commissioners who control the purse strings.

Harris Health gets almost half of its $1.1 billion budget from property taxes. It treated 350,000 patients last year.

Lopez couldn’t be reached for comment and the board managers of Harris Health also would not comment.

But in a written statement, board chair Elvin Franklin Jr. called Lopez a “valued employee and leader” but said the system needed a leadership change.

Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack has been a critic of Lopez.

He says patient wait times for appointments are still too long, and many administrators at Harris Health are overpaid.

“I think there’s been a lack of direction and I think last year when his contract was only renewed for a year, that kind of sent a message,” Radack said.

Radack says the new leader needs to be more transparent with Commissioners Court.

He also says Harris Health could look into outsourcing more medical services.

“We don’t have to be a bureaucracy that says ‘we’re going to do it all,’” he said.

The uninsured rate in Harris County hovers around 30 percent, meaning more than a million residents have no health coverage.

Judge Emmett says one solution would be if state leaders would accept the federal government’s offer to pay for expansion of Medicaid coverage in Texas. 

But he concedes that’s politically unlikely, so Harris Health will continue to be the medical safety net of last resort.

Because of that burden, Emmett says the system needs the best CEO-type leader it can find:

“The property taxpayers of Harris County end up having to foot the bill for a lot of things that I think the state of Texas should be paying for,” Emmett said. “Now that’s not David Lopez’ fault, but how we deal with it, we need to do it as efficiently as possible.”

Under Lopez, Harris Health built more outpatient and urgent-care style clinics, and succeeded in reducing hospital admissions, which are more expensive.

Harris Health also installed an electronic health records system, and that won it some national recognition.

The board has yet to announce an interim leader. Lopez’s contract expires July 8. 

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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