Houston Matters

Harris Health CEO wants proposed bond money to build new hospital, renovate other facilities

Harris County Commissioners Court will begin considering a proposed bond measure to raise some $2.5 billion for improvements to facilities within Harris Health System.


Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital building


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On Tuesday, Harris County Commissioners Court will begin considering a proposed bond measure to raise some $2.5 billion for improvements to facilities within Harris Health System, the county's public health safety net. The court has until August to amend and approve the request from Harris Health's board, which came back in April. If Commissioners Court approves it, Harris County voters would vote on the measure in the November election.

Dr. Esmaeil Porsa is the CEO of Harris Health. He joined Houston Matters on Monday to explain what the money would be used for. He said the money would be used for addressing “urgent infrastructure needs.”

“The situation is that over the last few decades there has been a gross underinvestment in our infrastructure,” Porsa said. “The result is that we have two hospitals at Level 1 trauma center … in a city that deserves at least four of them.”

Level 1 trauma centers are able to provide “just about every service you can think of” 24/7, and research.

Hospitals are also under capacity, Porsa said. In some hospitals it’s not uncommon to have 40 or more patients waiting in an emergency room, he told Cohen. “We have patients in hospital beds in hallways, waiting for a room.”

Porsa said he did his training at Harris Health at LBJ Hospital 30 years ago, and it was too small at the time.

“LBJ Hospital then had 16 ICU beds, today LBJ has 16 ICU beds,” he said. “Even today, in addition to the capacity issue at hospitals, LBJ is not able to provide some of the very routine services that you expect.”

He said if someone goes to LBJ for a heart attack or stroke the hospital can stabilize the patient, but they will then be sent to another hospital.

If the bond is approved, the improved LBJ Hospital would open in 2028 with 390 beds, and a Level 1-capable hospital.

“That would be almost twice the capacity of the LBJ Hospital today,” Porsa said. The location would also remain the same, he said.

The hospital would also be the first of its kind out of the Medical Center.

“When something happens today in that area, as you can imagine, that is a long ambulance ride to one of the two trauma centers in the Texas Medical Center,” he said.

If the bond passes, Ben Taub would also receive improvements.

“It is not unusual for us to have plumbing issues at the current Ben Taub Hospital, forcing us to actually shut down some of our patient units,” Porsa said. “Those repairs have to be made.”

Funding would also go towards a new patient tower, which would add up to 120 additional hospital beds. Additional funding would also go towards three new clinics in east, northwest and southwest Harris County.

If the bond is issued and voters approve the bond, it would take 10-12 years for funding to be distributed.

“Once the bond has been issued, the impact of the tax rate is about two cents,” Porsa said. “What that means to an average homeowner is about $6 a month, or about $70 a year.”

Another $400 million would be provided through philanthropy and operational cost savings, Porsa added. Commissioner Adrian Garcia put his support behind the bond proposal.

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